Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Moshiach's horn, Moshiach's crown

Recently, while learning the sefer Nefesh Hachaim, I discovered a Gemara that he quotes in Avodah Zarah that has very interesting implications. The Gemara there says that when Adam saw the sun go down on the first Friday night, he thought that it was because of his sin, and that the sun would not rise again. He and Chava cried all night, and when they saw the sun come up in the morning, they realized that it was the way of the world for the sun to set and to rise. Adam then brought a sacrifice of an ox whose horns preceeded its feet.

The commentaries explain what is meant by an "ox whose horns preceeded its feet." Ordinarily, an ox's feet preceed its horns - an ox is born without horns, and they only grow later. This ox, however, was the original ox that Hashem had created. When Hashem created the original animals, even though they were brand new creatures, they were not created as babies of that species, but rather fully grown. Thus, as the ox 'grew' out of the ground, its head came up first, including its fully developed horns. Only afterwards did its feet develop. Thus, its horns preceeded its feet.

The Nefesh Hachaim understands that Adam brought this offering in atonement for his sin. He explains that the significance of the fact that the horns preceeded its feet is that the horns represent that which is elevated above the head - namely the transcendent levels of the soul. The feet represent the lowest levels of the soul. Thus, Adam was drawing down the light of Teshuva from the very highest levels to the very lowest.

What is very interesting here is that, as we have said, Moshiach ben Yosef is represented by this very animal - the ox. He is also the one that is involved in the rectification of Adam's sin, and the way he does this is by accessing the highest levels of the soul, namely the yechida. Thus it could be that this gemara is alluding to Moshiach ben Yosef himself.

(Something else to think about is the Ram that Avraham avinu brought in place of Yitzchak at the akeida. It also had this characterisitic, because it also was created during the first six days of creation, thus its horns preceeded its feet. This sacrifice had a different function than Adam's, but we nevertheless see the parallel. It is also important to note that those very horns were the ones by which the Ram was caught. Additionally, those horns were the two shofaros, one of which was blown at har Sinai, the other of which will be blown at the advent of Moshiach.)

There is another Gemara I came across recently that also seems to hint to the concept of Moshiach ben Yosef. The Gemara is in Sotah (I think it is דף י"ג) and it is speaking about Yosef and his brothers bringing Yaakov's casket up to Israel for burial. As they do so, the children of Yishmael, Esav and Keturah all come out to make war with them. However, when they see Yosef's crown hanging on the casket, they stop, and their princes place their crowns, numbering thirty six, upon the casket as well.

There is clearly a lot going on in this Maamar Chazal, but I would just like to focus on one aspect of it. First, what is meant by Yosef's crown - what does it refer to? Secondly, what about this crown causes the chidren of Yishmael, Esav, and Keturah to give up their own crowns?

It could be said that this Gemara is alluding to the war of Gog Umagog, in which the chidren of Yishmael (the Arabs), Esav (the West), and Keturah (the East!) come together to do battle against the Jewish people. Leading the Jews is Moshiach ben Yosef, and his power of protection comes from his 'crown.' Connecting this to the previous thought of the Nefesh Hachaim, the crown (כתר) represents the highest level of the soul, which only Moshiach ben Yosef can access. This transcendental level represents the Torah of Moshiach, as well as the concept of Teshuva, both of which are integral parts of Moshiach ben Yosef's job.

When the children of Yishmael, Esav, and Keturah see the crown of Yosef - that is, the power of his Torah and Teshuva - they remove their own crowns - their own versions of the spiritual reality - and submit themselves to Moshiach ben Yosef. Thus, all will admit to the truth of the Torah.

What is extremely interesting about this theory is that it clearly echoes something that I have heard from a number of sources, among them Rebbe Nachman. That is, that the final war of Gog Umagog is not a physical war, but rather a spiritual war. This would seem to be exactly what is going on in this Gemara in Sotah.

Friday, September 25, 2009

More on Yosef and Rosh Hashana

Yesterday I was reviewing the Gemara in Rosh Hashana that speaks about when Moshiach will come, either in Tishrei or Nissan. I had forgotten that the Gemara there says something very significant that I never understood. The Beraisa lists off a number of things that occurred on Rosh Hashana and Pesach. One of the events enumerated is that on Rosh Hashana Yosef was released from jail. I never got the connection. Why was Yosef released on Rosh Hashana, and what is the significance of it?

Based on the thoughts I shared in the previous post on Rosh Hashana, however, I think it is beautiful. As we saw, Rosh Hashana is the day of Adam's sin, and therefore the day of the ultimate rectification of that sin - the job which is attributed to Moshiach ben Yosef.

To add a little more depth to this, I would like to share something I heard from Rav Kessin. He talks about Yosef as being the trailblazer who led the Jewish people into the exile of Egypt. The ultimate purpose for the Jewish descent to Egypt was to release the sparks that were contained in Egypt, bringing them back to the side of Good. This was accomplished either by staying strong to the Torah, by doing Teshuva, or by undergoing difficulties (yisurin). Yosef was the first to go down, and thus he began that process and underwent tremendous challenges to his convictions, as well as difficult physical conditions. Ultimately Yosef triumphed and succeeded in his job, completely releasing all of the sparks that he was meant to release. This ultimately led to Yosef becoming the ruler over Egypt. The fact that he was placed in this position over all of Egypt represented the fact that he had released all the sparks, and thereby placed them (and their former hosts) entirely beneath his dominion.

Amazingly, when did he complete this task, ensuring his rise to rulership? On Rosh Hashana! The sparks were completely removed and he was released to advise Pharoah, who would in turn appoint him - on that very day - to his position. Thus we see, yet again, that Rosh Hashana is a powerful day for the rise of Moshiach ben Yosef, a day that holds the potential for his ascension.

This brought into focus something I read in Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan's Handbook of Jewish thought, in which he speaks about the concept of Moshiach ben Yosef. There he explains that the two different ways the Torah describes Moshiach (one miraculous, one more natural) can be said to be speaking of the two different Moshiachs. Moshiach ben Yosef comes in more of a natural way, involving less miracles, whereas Moshiach ben Dovid is the king at the advent of a more miraculous period, and thus his advent involves more supernatural events.

I also realized that the argument in the Gemara as to when Moshiach comes - in Tishrei or Nissan - may actually not be an argument, as we will soon see.

Tosfos points out that the argument as to when the world was created also need not be a contradiction. The world could have been created in potential in Tishrei, while it was brought to actualization in Nissan. This actually explains the phrasing of what we say on Rosh Hashana "היום הרת עולם" - today the world was conceived. Rosh Hashana (in Tishrei) is conception, Nissan is actualization of potential. (It is significant that Rochel conceived with Yosef on Rosh Hashana as well.)

Moshiach ben Yosef represents the concept of potential - he completes the tikkun hakilkul, removing the effects of Adam Harishon's sin, and sets the stage for the ultimate tikkun, which is accomplished by Moshiach ben Dovid. Thus, Moshiach ben Yosef's job is accomplished in Tishrei - Rosh Hashana. Moshiach ben Dovid, on the other hand, will theoretically accomplish his job in Nissan - the time of actualized potential.

Thus, the one who says redemption will come in Tishrei is speaking of Moshiach ben Yosef, who represents the first stage of Geulah. The one who says redemption will come in Nissan is spekaing of Moshiach ben Dovid, who will complete the Geulah and the tikkun of נהמא דכיסופא.

This also helps us understand one more enigma. We find that the haftara we read during Succos has to do with the war of Gog and Magog. The reason for this is that there is a tradition that this war will take place during Succos. The question is, Why will the war of Gog and Magog take place at this time?

Based on what we've said, it would seem that Tishrei is the time of the height of Moshiach ben Yosef's power, and being that he is the one who will fight this war and ultimately vanquish the forces of Evil - among them Edom and the Erev Rav - the time for this war is in Tishrei.

Yom Kippur - day of transcendence

What is the secret of Yom Kippur? How is it connected to receiving the Torah and doing Teshuva? How does Teshuva work? Why don't we eat on Yom Kippur? What is the connection between Yom Kippur and Moshe Rabbenu's stay on Har Sinai?

Find out in this special edition of the Parsha Podcast.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Haazinu - Connecting Heaven and Earth

How Does Moshe call the Heavens and Earth to be his witnesses? Can inanimate objects bear witness? How is this testimony linked to the Jewish people's acceptance of the Torah? How is this theme a prelude to Yom Kippur?

Find out in this week's Parsha Podcast.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Excellent arba minim video

Did you ever wonder exactly what you need to look for when you are buying your Lulav and Esrog? What are the conditions that make it valid and invalid? A wonderful organization called Torah Live has put together an excellent video - short and to the point - that will take the mystery out of the process.

You can see it by clicking on the following link:

You'll need Flash to watch the video. Click here to get it:

Monday, September 21, 2009

Apples, Rosh Hashana, and tikkun hakilkul

This past Friday night, as we sat down to our Rosh Hashana meal, I was struck with a question that never crossed my mind before. We had said Hamotzi already, and had begun the seder of simanim, and we of course started first with the most obvious siman - dipping our apples in honey. We all know that this is to symbolize that we wish Hashem will grant us a sweet new year. The question is, however, why apples? There are plenty of other sweet fruits, so why did the custom develop to use the apple?

As I pondered this, the first thought that came to mind was that since Rosh Hashana is the day that Adam Harishon ate from the forbidden tree, perhaps we eat the apple to remember that eating. This notion, of course, was quickly discarded, as it is quite clear that the forbidden fruit was anything but an apple. In any event, it would be strange to commemorate the sin by imitating the evil deed!

I looked in the Artscroll Rosh Hashana machzor, and it provided an explanation that actually made the whole picture much more puzzling. It brought down that when Yakov avinu came in to Yitzchak to steal Esav's brachos, his father remarked that he smelled like the 'smell of the field.' Our sages interpret this to mean that he smelled like an apple orchard. For this reason, we specifically use an apple to dip in honey on Rosh Hashana night to symbolize our desire for a sweet new year.

The question is, What does Yakov getting the brachos have to do with Rosh Hashana?

This question occupied my thoughts on the twenty-or-so minute walk to shul Rosh Hashana morning. My mind was whirring and the cogs were turning, and some interesting connections made for some good food for thought.

I realized that the moment that Yakov was stealing the brachos from Esav was an extremely pivotal point in the story of Moshiach ben Yosef. Esav was the one who should have taken on the mantle of Moshiach ben Yosef's job, which was the tikkun hakilkul - the rectification of the damage caused by the sin of Adam Harishon. This was why Esav had more of a leaning toward being involved in the outside world. This was the world he would need to infuse with spirituality and remove the darkness from therein. The brachos that Esav would have received would have aided him in fulfilling this role, which actually was a precursor to the role of Yakov as Moshiach ben Dovid. This was also why Esav was born first, because just as Moshiach ben Yosef must complete his job prior to Moshiach ben Dovid's arrival, so Esav should have done his job first in order to set the stage for Yakov's role. This would have been the explanation of the prophecy told to Rivka 'ורב יעבוד צעיר' - the older will serve the younger.

Instead, however, Esav failed at his task and was too involved in the very physicality he was meant to purify. Thus, he forfeited the role of Moshiach ben Yosef, which Yakov purchased from him for a bowl of lentils. When it came time to receive the blessings that were inherent to Moshiach ben Yosef's job, it was absolutely imperative that Yakov get these blessings, as he had now taken on the dual role of Moshiach ben Yosef and Moshiach ben Dovid at the same time. (This role would later be split between his children Yehuda and Yosef.) Thus Yakov had to create the subterfuge of professing to be Esav, but the truth was that he was Esav in the sense that he had taken over Esav's role as Moshiach ben Yosef.

At this moment, Yakov walks in to Yitzchak to receive the blessings, and he is wearing Esav's special garment. This garment was no ordinary garment - it had been inherited from Nimrod, who in turn had gotten it from none other than Adam Harishon himself. It was no coincidence that Esav had Adam's clothes - Esav's job was to rectify the sin of Adam that had created the necessity for these clothes! Now Yakov had replaced Esav in that role, and therefore it would be Yakov who would put on the clothes of Adam Harishon. It was these clothes that brought in with Yakov the smell of the field of apples that Yitzchak smelled.

When we take a deeper look at what is going on throughout Rosh Hashana, we realize that hiding beneath the surface is a day that is very much connected to the concept of Moshiach ben Yosef. The entire davening centers around the Messianic age, and the day itself commemorates the birth of Adam harishon. But the day of his birth was also the day he sinned and was ejected from Gan Eden. Rosh Hashana was the very day that Adam harishon introduced the kilkul into the world that Moshiach ben Yosef would be enjoined to extricate. Thus, it is no coincidence that our davening centers around that time when indeed the whole world will be purified from Adam's sin.

If one thinks deeper into the matter, Rosh Hashana actually had the potential to be the day that would have brought the full rectification. If Adam had not eaten until sundown, Shabbos would have ushered in the dawn of Olam Haba - the complete rectification of mankind. Thus, just as we mentioned in regards to the 17th of Tammuz and Tisha b'Av, the day of downfall actually still contains the seed for the future rectification as well. This potential was not lost.

With this in mind, the theme of Moshiach ben Yosef as the one who would rectify Adam's sin is essentially the theme of Rosh Hashana itself. It is therefore no wonder that we take the apple to dip in honey. This apple reminds us of the moment in history when Yakov took over the job of Moshiach ben Yosef. By eating the sweet apple, it reminds us that Rosh Hashana is the day that holds the potential for the ultimate rectification of Adam's sin, and when Moshiach ben Yosef's job is completed, we certainly will have a sweet new year.

This also sheds light on an opinion in the Gemara which always seemed strange to me. The Gemara in Rosh Hashana (10B-11A) discusses when our future redemption will take place. According to one opinion, it will be in Nissan, just as the Geulah from Mitzrayim was in Nissan. According to another opinion, it will take place in Tishrei. To me, the first opinion always rang true, as Nissan is a time for redemption. (I'm also biased because my birthday is in Nissan.) Now, however, the Tishrei option actually seems to make more sense to me, as this was the month of the sin of Adam harishon, and the potential for its rectification.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Gog and Magog kuntres

Here is a download of a very nice piece by R' Daniel Krentzman on the topic of the war of Gog and Magog:

Monday, September 14, 2009

Rosh Hashana - Day of Unity

How do we understand the central themes of Rosh Hashana? What is the concept of Kingship? What is the concept of the Shofar? Why are we judged on this day? What does it mean that the world was created on this day? What was the great tragedy that occurred on Rosh Hashana?

Find out in this week's Parsha Podcast.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Yosef and Shechem II

Listening to Mordechai ben David's song "את אחי אנכי מבקש" I was struck with the following thought, which is an extension of the previous discussion of Yosef and Shechem.

Yosef asked Gavriel where his brothers had gone, and where they were shepherding. First, it is significant that he was speaking to Gavriel, because we find that the side of Gevurah (the left side, represented by Gavriel) comes into play immediately before redemption. Thus, this question was clearly marking a step toward redemption, and specifically in Yosef's role as Moshiach ben Yosef. If not for Gavriel, Yosef would not have found his brothers, and the process would not have begun.

Gavriel guides Yosef at Shechem, sending him to Dotan where he finds them, and they plot to kill him. Thus, besides for Shechem representing the place where Yaakov sacrificed to keep Yosef as Moshiach ben Yosef, it would also be the place where Yosef would begin his function of Moshiach ben Yosef - the tzaddik who would suffer in order to create a balance. If you listen to the fifth Moshiach podcast, you will see how Yosef fits this concept.

Yosef ends up suffering significantly more, but also ends up with a greater share in Klal Yisrael - two tribes. His greater challenge means that he will end up with more, but also means that he must go through more to attain that greater level.

It is interesting that both Yosef and Esav exhibited characteristics that showed they were naturally more involved in the physical world. Esav would end up falling into the trap and losing his extra portion and then even any portion in Klal Yisrael. Yosef would utilize his extra physicality (e.g. his good looks), and raise it up by withstanding his travails so that he would indeed earn his double portion in the Jewish people, and seemingly in the World to Come as well.

One last thing, is that Rav Kessin says that Moshiach ben Yosef goes through stages, progressing from the letter סמך to the letter שין (sin) to the letter שין (shin). The סמך represents the first level סכל - literally, the fool. At this stage, Moshiach ben Yosef is not aware of his mission, nor of how to accomplish it. The passuk in Yeshaya 53, in reference to Moshiach ben Yosef, says "הנה ישכיל עבדי" - my servant shall become wise. This is the middle stage where Moshiach progresses from the level of סכל to שכל - from fool to wisdom. This is the level of the letter שין (sin). Here he understands how to rectify his personal trials. Finally, he reaches the level of the שין (shin). Here he moves from the left (represented by the שין with the dot on the left) to the right (represented by the שין with the dot on the right), and moves toward teaching Klal Yisrael how to achieve their rectification as well.

I believe that this whole concept is actually hinted to in the name of the city Shechem. If you take the gematria of the word שכם, you get 360, or שס. Thus, it represents a place where there is a progression involving these letters, סמך and שין, leading to the rectification necessary for the advent of Moshiach ben Yosef.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Nitzavim-Vayelech - Teshuva and Torah

What is the deeper connection between Torah and Teshuva? Why is it found in "the mouth"? How does one go about about repentance?

Find out in this week's Parsha Podcast.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Suffering of Jews and Moshiach

Here is the fifth edition of the Understanding Moshiach Podcast.

The true Jewish understanding of Isaiah 53 - the suffering of the Jewish people and Moshiach. We learn the essential concept of hanhagas hayichud - Hashem dealing with the world in a way that guarantees that His good will be given, by altering the terms of rectifying the problem of receiving the Light by earning it. We also see the interplay between yichud and mishpat - how they work hand in hand. We learn the concept of the Jewish people as the chosen nation, as well as the role of the Jewish people and Moshiach's suffering to guarantee the world reaches its state of rectification.

In my humble opinion, this is a must listen!

Running time is about 35 minutes. (You won't be bored.)

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Power of a niggun

This is from a kumzitz I did in Morningside Acres bungalow colony on August 15, 2009. The niggun was composed by R' Shlomo Carlebach.

Ki Savo - Removing the husks

Why does the Torah focus almost exclusively on the curses? Why do we seem to find more positivity in the prophets words that speak of Moshiach? Why do we find much more positivity in the deeper sources and the Oral Torah? What does this have to do with the light of Moshiach?

Find out in this week's Parsha Podcast.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Elul and Moshiach

Just a brief thought, following up on a previous post.

I believe that Elul is a tremendously significant month for the Geulah process. We see it as we look over recent history, from the beginning of World War II (17th of Elul), to the World Trade Center bombing (23 Elul). Most recently, a significant moment in the Global Financial crisis was on September 15th, 2008, which corresponded to the 15th of Elul. That was the day that Lehman Brothers filed for chapter 11. Wikipedia notes that "the filing marked the largest bankruptcy in U.S. history." It also says there that "the Dow Jones closed down just over 500 points on September 15, 2008, which was at the time the largest drop in a single day since the days following the attacks on September 11, 2001."

The fact that the last event took place on the fifteenth of the month is especially significant, as the fifteenth of the month always marks the full moon, which represents the forces of spirituality at their point of ascension. This means that the Jewish people as a whole are spiritually strong, as they are successfully completing their mission. When we do as we are supposed to, the sparks of Kedusha are released from the side of evil, and returned to the side of good.

Elul is the month when the Jewish people are doing teshuva, and there is a tremendous rededication to follow in the path of the Torah. The Yeshivos fill up across the globe, with a fire for Torah that is unparalleled throughout the year. Even in the United States, where many are still on summer vacation for the beginning of Elul, by mid-Elul there has been a return to the Torah schedule. This is clearly marked by the events mentioned being in the second half of Elul. As the Jewish people enters the second half of Elul, the spiritual forces gain ascendancy, removing the power from the side of evil, and thereby, from Esav and the Western world and all its idolatries.

With this in mind, the 15th of Elul this years falls out this Friday, September 4th, and Elul continues until Erev Rosh Hashana, which falls out on Friday, September 18th.

When I was in the United States recently, I was in Philadelphia, and I had the opportunity to daven in the Philadelphia Yeshiva and speak to its Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Shmuel Kaminetsky. I asked him about the seventy year period that Rav Elya Svei spoke of in the name of Reb Elchanan Wasserman. He told me that Rav Elya had heard it directly from Rav Wasserman's mouth. Rav Kaminetsky told me, as his eyes crinkled into a smile, that he is also waiting. He also added that the seventy years corresponds to the seventy words in the chapter of Tehillim "למנצח... יענך ה' ביום צרה" which I was not aware of.

If we calculate seventy years from the beginning of World War II, we find ourselves on this coming Sunday, September 6th.

As I always say, I do not like to predict anything, because one looks foolish when nothing happens. But, these may be interesting dates to look out for, so keep your eyes and ears open.

May we merit a speedy and painless redemption, Amen.