Thursday, July 30, 2009

Va'eschanan - Loving Hashem

How do we develop a love for Hashem? How do we understand our r with Him? Why does this parsha follow Tisha B'av?

Find out in this week's parsha podcast.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Moshiach podcast - heads up

There was a small mess up, so if you got the same podcast twice, please go back and download the second one again. I have fixed the link.

Understanding Moshiach - episode 2

I have recorded a second episode of my 'Understanding Moshiach' podcast. There's a lot of stuff from the Kessin brothers, and more material here that I have not put up on the blog. Running time is about a half hour.

Here's the blurb from Itunes:

We continue on our scenic journey by starting with an understanding of the Jewish concept of God's oneness. This is fundamental to a conversation of Moshiach, because we see that the verse speaks of the days of Moshiach by saying, 'On that day God will be One and His name will be One. This is the goal of the entire process. Then we speak of the changing role of the Satan and the jobs of Moshiach ben Yosef and Moshiach ben Dovid, as well as the Jewish people's mission to reclaim the sparks of Holiness that descend to the other side. These can be claimed by the Jewish people in three ways - Keeping the commandments, repenting, and experiencing difficulty. This guarantees the Jewish people will never lose their special role in bringing the world to perfection, no matter if they keep the commandments or if they sin, Heaven forbid. This is discussed at length, and specifically brought to the fore from the story of the Jewish people in Egypt. Listen and enjoy.

Shechem, Yosef and Dina

Some wild and interesting thoughts occurred to me last week, and I hope you will indulge me for a few moments. I do not have a source for any of my conclusions, but the basis is information you will recognize, and the implications will be quite intriguing.

When the Torah describes Dina's birth, the commentaries say something rather interesting. Originally, Leah was actually pregnant with Yosef. However, when Leah realized she was carrying a boy, she knew the ramification of this would be that Rochel would end up with less boys than the maidservants. This embarrasment could not be tolerated, so she davened that the child be switched to a girl. Thus Dina was born. (See the Da'as Zekenim.)

Immediately we see a connection between Yosef and Dina.

The Rabbenu Bachai says that Yosef was in fact born seven months after Dina, so they also were extremely close in age.

What is interesting to note is that at first glance it would seem that the power of Moshiach ben Dovid was rooted in Leah, and the power of Moshiach ben Yosef was rooted in Rochel. This, however, seems to not be the case. Rather, it seems that Leah had both potentials within her, and Rochel only birthed Yosef because of Leah's prayer.

The truth is, however, that we could look at it somewhat differently. Really, Rochel had the potential for both Moshiach ben Dovid and Moshiach ben Yosef within her, however, her sacrifice on behalf of Leah that she not be embarrassed when Yaakov ended up marrying her resulted in Leah supplanting her on both accounts. Leah's prayer on Rochel's behalf - that Rochel not be embarrassed - resulted in Rochel getting back the potential of Moshiach ben Yosef.

Still, it seems that Dina, while she was not a boy, still retained something of the spiritual power of Yosef. How do I know this? Because we find that the commentaries explain the following problem. Why did the entire event of Dina being raped by Shechem occur? One of the explanations given is that Yaakov was punished for witholding Dina from marrying Esav. She could have returned him to the side of good, and Yaakov prevented that from happening. Since she did not willingly wed a circumcised man, she was forcibly brought into a union with an uncircumcised animal - Shechem.

The obvious question is, Why should Dina be able to get Esav back on the Derech? How could Yaakov have known she possessed this capability?

The answer is that Yaakov knew that Dina possessed the same spiritual power as Yosef. Just as he knew that Yosef was the counter-balance for Esav, and therefore returned home as soon as Yosef was born, so too, Yaakov knew that Dina had the same spiritual balance for Esav! She would certainly have been able to get him back on the correct path.

Now the question is, Why would Yaakov indeed prevent Esav from getting back with the program? This question needs further thought, but a few different ideas come to mind. One is that Yaakov had bought the bechora and had also received the brachos of Esav. These brachos were the ones designated for the job of Moshiach ben Yosef that Esav originally had been supposed to perform. These very brachos would eventually be given to Yosef. It could be that Yaakov felt that Esav had lost his right to be in the program and first he, and then subsequently Yosef, had taken his place. It seems that this was not a proper calculation, as Dina ended up being forced into this horrible situation as a result.

There is more, however, because we find that who does Yosef end up marrying in Mitzrayim? Her name was Osnas, but who was she? There is a tradition that she was actually the product of the union between Dina and Shechem! Thus, Yaakov wanted to exclude Esav and replace him with Yosef. The result was Dina being raped and producing Yosef's future wife who would give him Efraim and Menashe! These two represented the special status Yosef had as bechor. Here too, Yosef had been given the first-born status taken from Esav by Yaakov.

There's still more. When Yaakov gives Yosef the bracha and tells him he will get a double portion, the language he uses is "Shechem echad" - you get another 'shoulder' over your brothers. The commentaries explain that there is a double meaning here. Besides for it referring to the double portion of two shevatim coming from him, it also refers to the actual city of Shechem, which Yosef would be buried in. But what does the city of Shechem have to do with Yosef? And why does he use this strange term to refer to Yosef's double portion?

The answer is plain to see. Because of Yaakov's desire to keep Yosef as Moshiach ben Yosef, Shechem raped Dina. This led to Shimon and Levi killing all the inhabitants of the city and it being conquered for the people of Israel. This city existed as part of what Yaakov bequethed to his children because of his commitment to Yosef. Shechem was the source of Yosef's special status and his double portion in the Jewish people both in concept and in physical reality!

It is also significant that when Yaakov refers to the conquest of Shechem, he refers to it as the place he gained through his sword and his bow. The commentaries say that this is reference to Yaakov's spiritual powers. Rav Aryeh Kaplan points out (in a different context) that the bow represents the power of Moshiach ben Yosef - shemiras habris - keeping the sanctity of the sexual organ. The commentaries explain that the sword is reference to the concept of tefillah and Torah. Thus we see that the two 'weapons' that Yaakov used to conquer Shechem corresponded to the job of Moshiach ben Yosef (the bow - shemiras habris) and Moshiach ben Dovid (the sword - prayer). This could hint to the fact that the entire reason for the event that transpired in Shechem was because Yaakov wanted to retain these two powers exclusively for his children, and specifically, Yosef.

One final addendum is something I saw in the Jewish Encyclopedia in an article on Shechem. There it mentions that Shechem was the city where Rechavam was appointed king, and later where Yeravam was also appointed. Yeravam actually made Shechem into the capitol of his kingdom. The significance is that Yeravam was literally inches away from being Moshiach ben Yosef, and Rechavam would have been Moshiach ben Dovid. The fact that they were both appointed in Shechem points to the fact that they recognized that their power was rooted in the city, and specifically Yeravam, as Moshiach ben Yosef, made it the center of his kingdom, for he recognized that his potential for greatness was there.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Tisha B'av

I put together some thoughts on Tisha B'av. A few tidbits from Rav Mendel Kessin's shiur last night, some thoughts of my own.

Click here for the Tisha B'av podcast.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Devarim - Meriting Mercy

Why did Moshe start his final speech by retelling of sins the Jews he was speaking to had not even committed? What was his essential message as they entered Israel? Why did it always seem that Hashem would get angry, and somehow Moshe would stop His anger - Hashem is not human, and certainly knew the idea Moshe conveyed! Why are there human sages who are part of the celestial court that judges a person after he dies? Do angels have free choice?

Find out in this week's Parsha Podcast.

Obama and Jerusalem

It was very disturbing for me to hear that the United States government has demanded a halt to construction in Jerusalem. This is our city, torn from us so long ago, the city we have hoped for and dreamed of for centuries. This city has been the center of our prayers, and we ask three times a day that it be rebuilt. There isn't a Jewish wedding that does not remind themselves of this city, even at the time of their greatest joy. Yet we are told that we may not live in our city, and must give it to a group of bloodthirsty animals whose soul desire is our destruction or at best our recognition of their Arab supremacy.

And what of sensitivity? The leader of the United States is very aware of Arab sensitivities and makes sure to pander to whatever they wish to hear. Where is the awareness of Jewish sensitivity? Is it appropriate to make such harsh demands during our nation's period of mourning for Jerusalem's destruction? Could they not wait until a later date?

The truth is that these questions only bothered me at first glance. The deeper question is, Why does Hashem allow this to happen? We know, of course, that לב מלכים ביד השם - the hearts of kings are in the hand of Hashem. Why has Hashem chosen to open the mouth of the prideful United States president at this time? What is the underlying message for us?

I believe that the answer is to be found in the Gemara that teaches us why the Sages instituted many different enactments to remind us of what was done in the Beis Hamikdash (e.g. taking the Lulav for all seven days of Succos, as it was done in the Beis Hamikdash, as opposed to only one day, as is required from the Torah for other places). The Gemara brings the passuk in Yirmiyah פרק ל which states - כי נדחה קראו לך ציון היא דורש אין לה - You, Tzion, were referred to as one who is pushed away, none seek you. The Gemara says that from the fact that the verse laments that none seek Tzion (Yerushalyim), this implies that we must do things to encourage people to seek and remember Tzion.

When the United States pressures Israel to stop settlement growth, including Jerusalem, what is our natural response? It is righteous indignation. Who are they to tell us what to do?! This is our land, and this is our Jerusalem. We will live here and we will build here!

This is exactly what Hashem wants, and this is exactly when Hashem wants it. We are now in the nine days and we are entering greater and greater levels of mourning over our loss of Jerusalem. Yet, like the passuk says, 'none seek you.' We are all lost when it comes to feeling a true sense of loss. But if we have no sense of loss, how can we get Jerusalem back? If we do not seek her, how will we have the merit to keep her?

In order to merit a true Geulah, we must want this Geulah. Nevertheless, Hashem is constantly doing whatever it will take to make us want it! Once we want it, he will bring it, but it starts with Him. This is what I believe is the understanding of the two phrases we have - השיבנו השם אליך ונשובה - return us to You Hashem, and we will return; and שובה אלי ואשובה אליכם - [Hashem says,] return to Me, and I will return to you. First Hashem inspires us to want to return, then we return, and He returns to us.

It is amazing to witness how everything in the world is but a tool in Hashem's hands, which he uses only for our benefit.

Years ago I composed a song whose words come out of the kinnos of Tisha B'av. They are עד אנה בכיה בציון ומספד בירושלים תרחם ציון ותבנה חומות ירושלים - How long will there be crying in Tzion and eulogy in Jerusalem? Have mercy on Tzion and rebuild the walls of Jerusalem.

When I have had difficulty getting emotional on Tisha B'av, I will inevitably turn to these words and this song, and the tears come. I hope it will inspire you too. The song is A capella - there are no instruments, just voices.

Here is the song, Ad ana bechiya.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Some interesting Moshiach stuff

Today I recorded the first in a series of shiurim on Moshiach. A lot of the material has already been presented on the blog, but there is some new stuff, and be'H it will be pretty organized, laying out the concepts clearly. The first episode is entitled "Beginnings - Adam's sin." The running time is a little under a half hour.

Here is the description I put on Itunes:
This episode starts us on our journey into the depths of Jewish tradition to begin to understand where the concept of Moshiach begins. In order to understand the concept of Moshiach, which is the end of times, we must begin at the beginning of time, with the first man, Adam. He is the first one our sages identify with the concept of Moshiach, and thus we must explore his mission and where he failed.

Rav Daniel Krentzman recently sent me a new pamphlet he has put out on Moshiach ben Yosef. It is about sixteen pages, and goes through the different characters in Tanach who played the role of Moshiach ben Yosef. It is worth looking at.

Also worth seeing is R' Krentzman's pamphlet I started to post here (but did not get to complete) on the 156 aspects of Moshiach ben Yosef as per the sefer kol Hator, based on the teachings of the Gra.

Final treasure is something I found while Googling "Yosef and Mussaf" for my last Parsha Podcast, which is a really deep piece on the character of Yosef hatzaddik himself, by Rav Eytan Feiner, who is an incredibly bright and incisive Talmid Chacham.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Death of Moshiach ben Yosef

The death of Moshiach ben Yosef is a very interesting topic, and needs explanation and discussion.

The only time that Moshiach ben Yosef is mentioned in the Gemara is in Succah daf 52A. There the Gemara brings the passuk in Zechariah (12) which speaks of a great eulogy which will take place in the times of Moshiach. There is an argument as to who is the subject of the eulogy. One opinion is that they are mourning the death of Moshiach ben Yosef, and the other opines that they are mourning the death of the yetzer hara (evil inclination). The Gemara then says that after Moshiach ben Dovid sees that Moshiach ben Yosef has been killed, he beseeches Hashem to spare him from death. To this request, Hashem responds with an assurance that he will indeed be spared.

A number of issues beg for an explanation. The most obvious question is, Why must Moshiach ben Yosef die? At which point is he to die? Has he completed any of his mission yet?

So let us start off with some information, and I will again mention that most of what I am about to write comes from shiurim from Rav Shimon Kessin.

Moshiach ben Yosef's jobs are many, and they include bringing the entire Jewish people back to Israel, infusing them with a newfound spirituality, and revealing the secrets of the Torah, among other things. Another important task that he is to accomplish is the complete destruction of Edom, as the passuk says in Ovadiah, והיה בית יעקב אש ובית יוסף להבה ובית עשו לקש ודלקו בהם ואכלום - the house of Yakov will be fire, and the house of Yosef a flame, and the house of Esav will be like straw, and he shall light them and consume them.

This final purpose follows all the other ones, and is the reason why he leads the Jewish people in the war of Gog and Magog. Although many people mistakenly think otherwise, this great war is actually after Moshiach ben Yosef has done most of his job, and actually segways us into the period of Moshiach ben Dovid.

If we can imagine the scene for a moment, we have Moshiach ben Yosef who has led the entire Jewish people to a genuine spiritual rennaisance, returning the entire nation back to their rightful homeland, to Israel. He represents the promise of a new age for humanity, one of peace, love and harmony. And yet, he is challenged by a force known as Gog and Magog. This force is actually composed of a few different components, but is mainly led by Amalek, the arch-enemy of the Jewish people (which reared its ugly head in World War II in the form of the Nazis of Germany), as well as the Erev Rav - that section of the Jewish people who attempts to remove the Jewish people's relationship with Hashem. They combine forces with many other nations of the world (see Yechezkel 38-39) to try to prevent the triumph of Moshiach ben Yosef and his mission to remove evil from the hearts of mankind. This true axis of evil, however, would rather die than allow mankind to be beholden to the Higher Power that created them.

Just as Moshiach ben Yosef is about to destroy the last vestiges of evil, the leader of the Erev Rav, named Armilus, is somehow able to kill him. Can we imagine the sheer horror of the Jewish people, so close to redemption, watching its progress wrenchingly arrested? Yet this is the scenario that the Gemara describes. The question again is, Why?

To begin to understand this, let us ask another interesting question. The gemara we quoted earlier stated that when Moshiach ben Dovid (who is also involved to some extent in the war) sees that Moshiach ben Yosef has been killed, he pleads with Hashem to spare his own life. Why does he fear for his life, just because ben Yosef has been killed? This question is asked by one of the commentaries on the gemara, the Einei Shmuel.

He answers that the root cause of Moshiach ben Yosef's death goes back to a mistake that Dovid Hamelech himself made. Dovid accepted loshon hara (slander) that was told to him about Mefiboshes, instead of giving him the benefit of the doubt. The result of this was that the Dovid's kingdom - the Jewish nation - would be split in two after Shlomo's reign. This meant that the kingdom of Yehuda would come under Rechovom ben Shlomo, and the new kingdom of Yisrael would come under the kingship of Yerovom ben Nevat. As always, Hashem gave the opportunity for a negative situation to still have the potential for salvation, and thus, Rechovom had the potential to be Moshiach ben Dovid, and Yerovom, in fact, was a hairsbreadth away from being Moshiach ben Yosef. Yerovom was an incredible Torah scholar who was well-versed in the deepest secrets of the Torah (as is MBY's role), however, he committed a grievous sin at a point after the yechida (the highest level of the soul that it is MBY's job to bring down) had already entered him! It actually flew out of him just before his horrible sin, which involved causing his entire kingdom to bow down to Golden calves. But the blemish he caused would have to be rectified by the final Moshiach ben Yosef.

It is for this reason that Moshiach ben Dovid prays for his life - because it was the sin of Dovid that had opened the possibility for Yerovom's great sin that is to be rectified by the death of Moshiach ben Yosef!

Rav Kessin points out that although Moshiach ben Yosef is killed, at a certain point, Moshiach ben Dovid actually brings him back to life in order to complete the rectification they must do together, and this actually begins the period of the revival of the dead.

Now, what is interesting is something I intentionally mentioned at the very beginning of this whole piece, and that is that the gemara actually has two opinions as to who is being eulogized in the verse. The explanation we have given until now is based on the opinion that Moshiach ben Yosef is the one who dies. There is another opinion, however, that it is the yetzer hara (evil inclination) that is being 'eulogized.' According to this opinion, Moshiach ben Yosef does not die, but rather, actually completes his task of destroying the forces of evil, and thus removes the evil inclination from the world (to a certain extent).

According to the Gra and others, indeed, the decree of death for Moshiach ben Yosef has been rescinded (עוד יוסף חי), and thus the second opinion of the gemara is the one that will actually play out in reality. This is due to the length of the exile the Jewish people has endured, which has actually completely atoned for the sin of Yerovom ben Nevat, and therefore removed the need for Moshiach ben Yosef's death.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Matos-Masei - Unifying Hashem

Was the request of the tribes of Reuven and Gad and part of Menashe an appropriate one? Most of the commentaries say No, but Rabbenu Bachai seems to say both yes and no. What were the positives and negatives? Why did Moshe give them specific advice, and did the advice work?

Find out in this week's Parsha Podcast.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Banishing exile's darkness

Last week, I got a surprising phone call. I was asked if I would sing at a yeshiva's siyum on Thursday, right after the fast of the 17th of Tamuz. As the the three weeks would have already begun, this meant that there would be no music, just my voice to lead the dancing and to provide a musical interlude between speakers. I was happy to join the Yeshiva in their simcha.

I got tremendous chizzuk from the siyum, which was made by the bachurim and yungerleit who were mostly ba'alei teshuva (and extremely bright ones at that). A number of different speakers gave over their thoughts and inspirations, but one of them - the last speaker - caught my attention the most. The entire time he spoke, it was with pronounced emotion and sincerity, and he regaled us with stories of his father's rebbe, Rav Shlomo Heiman. One of the things that caught my attention was his theme about Torah, geulah, and churban, which I will soon share with you.

After he finished speaking, I asked one of the members of the staff of the yeshiva who the speaker had been, and he told me that his name is Rav Samuels, and he is one of the Rabbonim of the kabbalah yeshiva, Sha'ar Hashamayim in Jerusalem. Rav Samuels speaks once a week to the guys in the yeshiva that was making the siyum, although his discussions do not center around kabbalah. It struck me that I had only seen a similar type of truly joyous and sincere personality once before, and it was Rav Gamliel Rabinovich, one of the other Rabbonim at Sha'ar hashamayim.

In his speech, Rav Samuels pointed out that although all joyous occasions are pushed off until after the three weeks, we still join for the joy of a siyum. Not only that, but the joy of completion of a maseches of gemara even allows us to eat meat during the nine days! Clearly, the mourning that we are to be aware of during this time of destruction is completely banished by the simcha of Torah.

Another interesting thing we see is that in the kaddish that is said after a siyum, there is an unusual text that is said. We say Yisgadal... Hashem's name should be made great, in the world which will be renewed, and the dead brought to life, and bring to the next world, and rebuild Jerusalem, and bring the Temple into it, and remove idolatry from the land, and bring the service of Hashem therein, and make Hashem king... It then continues with the regular kaddish. The obvious question here is, Why is this whole concept of Moshiach spoken of at a siyum?

What we clearly see is that the light and power of Torah is what has the ability to banish the darkness of exile and bring Moshiach. When we complete a maseches in Shas, there is a powerful light that is brought down from heaven, bringing the redemption closer. This is also true on a certain level whenever we learn Torah. The higher the level of learning, the greater the light that is brought down. This very light takes away the sadness of exile, and replaces it with the joy of redemption, even in middle of the exile itself!

ע"כ דבריו - end quote of Rav Samuels.

The deeper sources state that in fact, the learning of the inner wisdom of the Torah is what will ultimately bring the final Geulah to our people. The more we connect with that light, the more the light of the Torah will shine. Only this light has the power to remove the darkness of exile and bring the ultimate Light of Moshiach.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Rav Mendel Kessin in Ramat Bet Shemesh

If you are in Israel a week from this Sunday, you can hear Rav Mendel Kessin live.

Here's the official notice:

We are proud to present Rabbi Mendel Kessin, the internationally known speaker who has extensively spoken in Israel and worldwide on many topics of Hashkafa, Shmirat Ha'Lashon, and Current Events is giving a shiur in English entitled:

“Essence of Tisha B‘Av and Current Events According to the Perspective of the Divine Agenda: An understanding of the mind blowing events of the 21st century."

Date: Sunday July 26th 2009
Time: 8 to 10:30 PM
Location: Ramat Shalom, 43 Nachel Dolev, RBS Aleph

Separate Seating for Men and Women
Price: 25 NIS per person

This will be a phenomenal shiur and will give you clarity to what is happening today.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Pinchas - Spiritual balance

What is the connection between the story of the daughters of Tzlafchad, the appointment of Yehoshua, and the korban Musaf?

Find out in this week's Parsha Podcast.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

17th of Tammuz and Moshiach's lost light

This day marks what can arguably be called the greatest tragedy of all of Jewish history. Moshe Rabbenu had been on Har Sinai for forty days and was set to come down with the original Luchos - the Torah of Moshiach! By the grace of Hashem, the Jewish people, with Moshe's help, had succeeded in bringing down the light of Moshiach and returning to the state of Adam Harishon before the sin. They had extracted all the forces of holiness that had been entrapped by the Satan in the forces of Evil, which was embodied in Mitzrayim. At the last moment, the Satan came with a final trick, convinced the Jews that Moshe was dead, and that he would not return. This opened the door for the sin of the Golden Calf, which would return the poison of Evil back into mankind. Moshe had led the Jewish people to the chuppah, but as they stood underneath and were about to be wed to Hashem, as it were, they sinned the sin of adultery. The light of Moshiach that was embodied in the original luchos was shattered, and all the Jews watched in horror as the light, which had been etched into the stones, flew toward heaven, leaving nothing more than a lifeless shell - the broken tablets.

This tragedy is reflected in the later tragedies that occurred on this day - the burning of the Torah, the idol being placed in the Beis Hamikdash, the city of Jerusalem being breached, and the daily offering being stopped. All these are different representations of the loss we brought upon ourselves - the loss of the ultimate light that we wait for, and the infinite joy and closeness to Hashem that accompany it.

The passuk in Zechariah says כה אמר השם צבקות צום הרביעי וצום החמישי וצום השביעי וצום העשירי יהיה לבית יהודה לששון ולשמחה - the fast of the fourth month (Tammuz) and the fast of the fifth month (Av) and the fast of the seventh month (Tishrei) and the fast of the tenth month (teves) will be for the house of Yehuda for joy and gladness.

The classic question that is asked is that we understand that they will be days that are no longer sad, but why will they be joyous?

The answer is that these days are only sad because they represent opportunities lost. The 17th of Tammuz would have been the day of the consummation of our relationship with Hashem if we had not sinned with the Golden calf. But this does not mean that the potential for that relationship was completely lost. This day still holds within it that very light that did not end up being revealed. This day is still the fortieth day from Shavuos, and still represents the relationship that will one day indeed be made complete with the advent of Moshiach. Thus this day will be a day of incredible joy and gladness.

To illustrate this point a bit further, I would like to share a question that Rav Shimon Kessin asks. We find that Moshe Rabbenu himself is actually involved in the final process of Moshiach and of uniting the two Moshiachs together. The question is, Why? While we know that Moshe was Moshiach ben Yosef of his generation, there were many failed Moshiach ben Yosefs that existed in many different times, and we do not find that they are involved in the final process!

The answer is that while Moshe did not succeed in completing the 'marriage' between the Jewish people and Hashem, nevertheless, he did succeed in completing the first stage - the קידושין, as it were. The נישואין - the second stage - was prevented by the maaseh ha'egel, but he wasn't a failed Moshiach - he left the door open for the final Moshiach ben Yosef to complete the job that had already been started. This is why he returns to be involved in the final redemption process.

Thus we see that although the process of Moshiach seems to have been lost on this day, the truth is that it was just put on hold. But the completion of this process will still take place on the day that was destined for it, and then the days of fasting will be replaced with days of joy.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

How will we know it is him?

In continuing with some thoughts from the previous post about Moshiach ben Yosef, one of the interesting issues that confronts us is the question, How will we know it is Moshiach? Will it be obvious? Will we know it instinctively? Will he be accepted by all Jews and the entire world?

Rav Shimon Kessin speaks about this, and explains as follows. As we saw previously, MBY is someone who has the highest level soul which is entrapped in the forces of Evil, much as the Jewish people themselves are trapped in the forces of Evil. MBY gets to a certain point (unbeknownst to anyone else) where he realizes that he is indeed Moshiach, and he figures out how to release himself completely from the forces of Evil. At this point, he possesses a tremendous understanding of the greatest light of the Torah, and how it applies and explains the ultimate secret of the Universe, which is how Hashem's hand is in every single event that occurs, both to the Human race at large, as well as all the events in the lives of every individual, as well. With this understanding, he will possess the key that unlocks the answer to every single event, past, present, and future. This information will be available to him, beside for his skill in prophecy, as an outcrop of his understanding of the highest חכמה - wisdom.

He will attain this level over a certain period of time, most likely relatively short, perhaps months. Once he has done so, he will be ready to reveal this light to the Jewish people as well. He must bide his time, however, until the nation is indeed on the spiritual level to receive this light. This will also be a somewhat gradual process, again relatively quick. Hashem will pour out a desire onto the Jewish people that will make them begin a certain spiritual search. This concept is referred to in the passuk הנה ימים באים נאם ה והשלכתי רעב בארץ לא רעב ללחם ולא צמא למים כי אם לשמוע את דבר השם - Days are coming, says Hashem, and I will send a famine in the land; not a famine for bread, nor a thirst for water, but to hear the word of Hashem.

This desire will be unquenchable, and there will be only one who can fulfill the spiritual desire - Moshiach himself. It is much like a man and woman who have met and fallen in love. If you ask them how they know that they are meant for each other, the answer may not be forthcoming - they just know. Here too, the Jewish people will know, that he is the one, without a shadow of a doubt. He will be able to provide answers and spiritual advice for every single ailment that befalls any individual, and his advice will always work. This is spoken of in the passuk in Yeshaya רוח חכמה ובינה עצה גבורה דעת ויראת ה - he possesses a spirit of wisdom and understanding, advice of strength, knowledge and fear of Hashem. This all stems from the wisdom of the Torah, the light of which he will reveal, which contains this depth of understanding of every event in the life of all men. This light will quench the thirst of the Jewish people, and draw them all back to Eretz Yisrael and Jerusalem - כי מציון תצא תורה ודבר השם מירושלים - from Tzion (גימטריא - יוסף) shall come forth the Torah, and the word of Hashem from Jerusalem.

This whole process is followed by the war of Gog Umagog. This war is waged against Moshiach ben Yosef by the forces of Evil, led by Amalek, that will deny his spiritual power, and he will vanquish them for all time, with the help of Moshiach ben Dovid. This represents the final removal of the forces of Evil from inhabiting the mind of mankind. The Yetzer Hara will completely return to the state it was in before Adam Harishon sinned - completely external to Man's essence. Thus, the job of Moshiach ben Yosef will be completed, and Moshiach ben Dovid will then be crowned king and take the mantle of leadership to raise the world to an even higher level, which is the complete destruction of the forces of Evil, even those that are external, and the lifting of Mankind to the level of spirituality they are destined to reach in order to enter Olam Haba - the World of Pure Good and Ultimate spirituality.

One last thought that I would like to share that Rav Kessin says is that although it is very difficult for us to imagine, our desire for spirituality when these events come to pass will be unbelievable. If one could think of the greatest physical desire that he has, one that is uncontrollable, perhaps, this would not compare to the type of desire we will have to come close to Hashem. This will be imbued in every single Jew, and at a later stage, in every non-Jew as well.

May the day be soon, Amen.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Balak - Swallowing development

From where did our chazal see that Bilaam was so evil? What was his fundamental character flaw? Why did he experience such a strange miracle, namely the speaking donkey? Why did he speak of the End of Days? Why is the story followed by the prince of the tribe of Shimon's sin? What is the connection to the previous theme?

Find out in this week's Parsha Podcast.

Sensing Kedusha

A few days ago, I played at a simcha, and had the chance to rent a car. On my way home, I was driving through Ramat Bet Shemesh Bet, and I picked up a chossid to give him a lift. He noticed I was American, and asked about my feelings toward Eretz Yisrael. He explained that to someone who lives here and has never known anything else, it is hard to sense the extra kedusha.

He proceeded to tell me a story about the Rizhiner rebbe, who evidently lived outside of Israel. One time, one of his chassidim made a pilgrimage to Eretz Yisrael. On his return, he came to the rebbe and told him that although he had been to the Holy land, he had not really sensed anything especially holy about it.

The rebbe responded with the following mashal. He said that a blanket is meant to provide warmth and comfort. The degree of warmth that it can provide, however, is dependant completely on the heat of the person being covered. Thus, if a dead person is covered with a blanket, it will not warm him.

The same thing is true about Eretz Yisrael. If one comes to Eretz Yisrael and does not sense the kedusha, it suggests the fact that there is a spiritual coldness that pervades his life. One who comes here and feels the warmth can be assured that the fire burns within him, and is rekindled in the right surroundings.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Recognizing Moshiach

In Bilaam's brachos of the Jewish people, he relays a message that was intended just for us, sitting on the threshold of the end of days. In perek כד passuk יז Hashem's plan is revealed in the statement דרך כוכב מיעקב וקם שבט מישראל - A star will shoot out from Yakov, and a ruler will arise from Yisrael. The Or Hachaim explains that this double description of Moshiach, either as a star or as a ruler, describe the two possible ways Moshiach can arrive. He can arrive like a star, in a miraculous manner, or like a regular ruler, rising naturally. He explains further that this depends on the state of the Jewish people. If they are meritorious, and the redemption comes in the time of אחישנה - the hastened time - then Moshiach will be like a star. Otherwise, Moshiach will come in a natural manner, in the time of בעתה, or the preordained time. This second choice is what Zechariah describes when he talks of Moshiach coming עני ורוכב על חמור - a pauper riding in on a donkey.

On this concept, Rav Shimon Kessin explains that Moshiach ben Yosef, who we are speaking of here, is a direct reflection of the Jewish people as a whole. The reason for this is very deep, but on the surface level, let us just say that Moshiach has agreed to a 'deal' with Hashem that however low the Jewish people have fallen, he will enter into the darkness that they have created, and suffer there with them in order to balance out the judgment and give them a chance to repent. This does not mean that Moshiach is punished for the sins of the Jewish people, Heaven forbid, but rather, that he takes upon himself to suffer on their behalf, and thereby open the door for them to repent before their final judgment is brought down upon them.

The result of this is that Moshiach ben Yosef literally reflects the spiritual state of the Jewish people. If the Jewish people are righteous, then Moshiach comes in 'like a star,' looking like the great righteous individual he is. If the Jewish people are on a low spiritual level, however, then Moshiach appears to be someone on a low spiritual level as well! Thus, if we had to guess who Moshiach ben Yosef is today, he is definitely not someone who would appear to be a great tzaddik! This concept is somewhat counter-intuitive, but there is a deep explanation as to why this is so.

One of the interesting results of this is that for thousands of years, the nations of the world - the descendants of Esav and Yishmael - have believed that they have replaced the Jewish people. They back this claim by saying that it is clear that they are the correct ones because they are the ones who are ascendent in the world - they have the תפארת and עז - the spiritual beauty and physical strength. They would claim that the Jewish people have been rejected by Hashem and that is why we are in such a lowly state.

When Moshiach finally reveals himself, they will see that he is not exactly what they had expected - he is not someone who seems to be a paragon of righteousness, rather his piety will be covered with layers of darkness and externalities, just like the Jewish people he represents. When they see such a person and it becomes absolutely clear that he is indeed Hashem's chosen Moshiach, it will be clear that those who had seemed righteous and dignified all along - the nations of the world - were not true representatives of Hashem's plan, but rather it was the trampled nation of the Jews, who seemed so lowly, who truly were the beacons of Hashem's light. This, says Rav Kessin, is the explanation of what is going on in the psukim in Yeshaya (end of perek 52 through perek 53) which is speaking both about the Jewish people and Moshiach ben Yosef himself, as both will look in the time right before Moshiach, and how the nations will react to his revelation.