Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Understanding the Geulah process

I would like to share some more of the sefer Acharis Kereshis that I have been reading again recently.

The book begins with some quotes from the Ramchal as well as the Gra.

In the Mamar Hageulah of the Ramchal (page 54), he writes:

One should know that there are two significant times in the redemption process, which were both found in the redemption from Egypt as well as the redemption from Babylonia. These two stages will occur in the future redemption, may it be speedily in our days. The verse that I quoted at the beginning refers to this when it says (Micha 7:8), "Let my enemy not rejoice over me" - this is the first time, which is called פקידה - 'conceptual remembering.' [The verse continues,] "When I sit in darkness, Hashem is my Light" - this is the second time, which is called זכירה - 'active remembering.'

This is not the only verse, as we find numerous verses that hint to these two stages. Thus we find (yeshaya 52:2), "Move from the dust, arise O captives of Jerusalem" - this refers to the פקידה - 'conceptual remembering;' "Open the shackles on your neck O captive daughters of Zion" - this is reference to the זכירה - 'active remembering' stage. Similarly we find (Yeshaya 60:1) "Arise and shine for your light has come" - this again refers to the 'conceptual remembering;' "And the honor of Hashem shines upon you" - here again is reference to the stage of 'active remembering.'

Now I will start to explain the character of these two stages with great secrets, and since they are indeed so great, I will not explain them at length, and I will only say that which is absolutely necessary for a basic understanding, so understand this well.

The time of פקידה, 'conceptual remembering,' was the first stage in [the redemption process in] Egypt. This is what the Torah refers to when it says (Shemos 2:25), "Elokim saw the children of Israel, and Elokim knew." I will tell you what this פקידה is, and it should be understood that at this stage the original damage is the one that is being rectified, and even this rectification is not complete. The other damages are only rectified at the stage of זכירה - 'active remembering.' In regards to this [second stage], we find the verse says (Shemos 2:24), "And Elokim heard their cries, and Elokim remembered His covenant..." Also understand that the first stage is through [the Sefirah of] Yesod, as I told you, and the revelation of the second stage is through [the Sefirah of] Tiferes. It is through this mechanism that the spiritual power is available for Moshiach ben Yosef and Moshiach ben Dovid to accomplish their tasks at each of the stages of the final redemption.

To be continued...

Sunday, March 29, 2009

A Musical Pesach Seder

About two years ago, I sang for an album that was being recorded of the Bostoner Rebbe's Pesach Seder Niggunim. I had a great time doing it, and enjoyed the songs very much.

I didn't actually get a chance to hear the final product, and forgot about it until a little before Pesach last year when I came across the album on a music site. I listened to the samples, and the songs started to come back to me a little. I wasn't able to get a hold of the CD then, but finally this year, I saw the Rebbe's son at a chasuna I sang last week, and was able to finally hear the album.

It is a fun album, which consists of about 27 songs from the Seder, from the classic Kadesh-urchatz to Echad mi yodea, as well as some tunes that are off the beaten track. It's nice to get into the spirit of Pesach (if the cleaning doesn't suffice for you) with the album in the background.

You can listen to some samples and purchase the CD by clicking on this link.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Moshiach ben Binyomin?

On the Shabbos before Purim, my rav shared a very interesting thought, which started me thinking.

When Mordechai refused to bow down to Haman, the sages of his time challenged him. They asked why he was putting himself and the Jewish people in danger, and said that we have a precedent from Yakov Avinu - he and all of his family bowed down in front of Esav. Certainly one can bow down in front of Esav's progeny, Haman!

To this Mordechai responded and said that while it was true that all of their ancestors bowed down, his own ancestor, Binyomin, was not yet born and was the only tribe that did not prostrate in front of Esav. Mordechai therefore explained that he had his own precedent to follow.

Another interesting thought that I have seen is that it was Shaul, who was a descendant of Binyomin, who was sent on the mission to destroy Amalek, the grandson of Esav who represents all of the evil in the world. Mordechai, a descendant of Binyomin would be the vehicle for the downfall of Amalek's descendant Haman.

It is also worthy of noting that our sages tell us that Yosef was originally supposed to have twelve tribes, similar to Yakov. However, due to a sin, ten of the twelve were given to Binyomin. Each of Binyomin's ten sons were named after Yosef in some way (as Rashi notes).

Also interesting to note is that just as we find the concept of the connection between Moshiach ben Yosef and Moshiach ben Dovid, there is also a clear connection between Yehuda (מב"ד) and Binyomin (perhaps מב"י?) that is worthy of explanation. In fact, Shaul was supposed to have been the Moshiach ben Yosef for Dovid as Moshiach ben Dovid, if not for the fact that he ended up being unworthy.

I was told that while we do indeed find that Moshiach ben Dovid must be from the physical lineage of Dovid Hamelech, there does not seem to be a source stating that Moshiach ben Yosef must actually be from Yosef. This is actually quite an important point, because there are opinions that the tribes of Ephraim and Menashe were both lost to Klal Yisrael, so if it was necessary for MBY to be from either of those two tribes, we might find ourselves in a quandary. In any event, the tribe of Binyomin still exists as a significant part of Klal Yisrael, as the Jewish people today are composed of what was the kingdom of Judah, which consisted of the tribes of Yehuda, Binyomin and some Leviim and Kohanim.

It is also significant to note that the Beis Hamikdash was located on the border between Yehuda and Binyomin's portions in Eretz Yisroel, indicating a spiritual partnership between the two in being the vehicle for bringing Hashem's Divine Presence into the world.

Something else that comes to mind is that Binyomin was blessed by Yosef with the bracha of חן - grace, which Rebbe Nachman explains is the power of Torah and Tefillah (prayer) that bring about Hashem's response. These are the very tools that Moshiach will use to bring the world to its ultimate rectification.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Economics touching home

This past Shabbos, my rav shared a thought which I would like to share with you as well.

He was speaking about the fact that many people are currently facing financial difficulty due to the current economic crisis. What should the approach be for those who aren't as affected toward those who are more affected?

We have an example from Yakov avinu. There was a great famine in Eretz Yisrael, but the meforshim explain that Yakov and his family were not affected by it. Nevertheless, Yakov sent his sons down to Egypt to procure provisions, saying, "למה תתראו" - "Why should we draw the attention of those around us?"

When others are in financial distress and do not have the means to live by a higher standard, it is at that time that those who may still have the means need to exercise their sensitivity. This is something that each person needs to judge for themselves, but if, for example, one is accustomed to always having something noticably new for the Yom Tov season, one must be aware of attracting the attention of those who used to be able to do the same, but no longer can. This is not so much to prevent jealousy, more to increase sensitivity and being נושא בעול עם חבירו - lightening others' load by taking on some of it as well.

May Hashem help us and provide us with all our needs.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Gog and Magog - part 3

Continuing from the previous post on Gog Umagog, we were quoting Rav Kaplan's explanation on pp. 38-39 on the children of Yefes, whose nations will come with Gog and Magog to wage war in Jerusalem in the end of days.

Tuval. A northern country, see Ezekiel 38:2, 27:13. This is usually identified with Bithynia (Targum Yonathan; Targum on 1 Chronicles 1:5; Yerushalmi, Megillah 1:9). The Talmud also refers to it as Beth-unyaki, which is the Talmudic term for Bithynia (Yoma 10a). This is in the area to the east of the Bospherus (Yov'loth 9:11). Josephus, however, says that the Tuvalites were the Ibers. Some say that these were the people of the Iberian Peninsula, and hence they were the original Spaniards. Indeed, one source says that this is why the Spanish refer to themselves as cen-tuvales (gentualla), literally "people of Tuval" (Abarbanel). However, there was also an Iberian people who lived to the east of the Black Sea.

Meshekh. A northern kingdom; cf. Ezekiel 38:2, 27:13; Psalms 120:5. Most Talmudic sources identify Meshekh with Mysia (see Targum Yonathan; Targum on 1 Chronicles 1:5; Yerushalmi, Megillah 1:9; Yoma 10a; Buber on Peskita Zutratha 26a). This was the land to the west of Bithynia, along the Dardanelles with Mycenae, an ancient city in Greece. Josephus, however, associates Meshekh with Cappadocia, whose capital is Mazak, in what is now central Turkey (see Herodotus 1:72). It is very close to Galatia (see Gomer). Another possibility would be to identify Meshekh with the Massagatae, an ancient people who lived in Russia to the east of the Aral sea (cf. Herodotus 1:201). It was these people who drove the Scythians into Cimeria (Ibid. 4:11). It is also possible to idenitfy Meshekh with the Moschians mentioned in ancient sources (Herodotus 7:78). The name may be related to the Muskeva River, and hence to Moscow. Indeed, there are sources that say the Meshekh was the forerunner of the Slavs (Kesseth HaSofer).

End quote of Rav Aryeh Kaplan.

It is significant to note that these nations that accompany Gog, or that he rules over, seem to be descended from Yefes. It is in his genealogy that we find the names Magog, Meshech and Tuval. The meforshim also say that Gog ends up meriting to be buried in Israel in the merit of Yefes' good act of covering Noach in his shame. Just as Yefes did an act of covering, so Hashem 'covers' Gog in the land of Israel, burying him there.

I also found it interesting that Rav Kaplan notes (on p. 795 of The Living Torah) that in the Septuagint (which was the version of the Torah translated by seventy great Jewish sages into Greek), Agag, king of Amalek, is identified with Gog. A thought I had was that the difference between Gog (גוג) and Agag (אגג) is the change of an Alef to a Vav. This is significant because the letter Vav is related to Alef in the Sefarim Hakedoshim. The connection between Gog and Agag is significant also because Gog is the quintessential person who believes that everything is his own power (as we mentioned in the first post in this series) and totally denies Hashem's involvement in the world. He would be what we could refer to in modern terms as the ultimate left-wing liberal. This is the essence of Amalek (for whom Agag is king). Their entire goal in existence is to prove that all his happenstance, that there is no God and that we come from monkeys (עמלק = עמל קו"ף - the work of monkeys! As per R' Akiva Tatz).

In the next post on this topic, be'H I will quote the Malbim on Yechezkel 38, so we can start to understand how these ancient nations fit in today.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Gog and Magog - part 2

I began this post a few months ago, meaning to complete it pretty soon afterwards, but just had not gotten to it. There is a lot to say about Gog and Magog, and I wanted to give a little idea of what this place is and where it might be, based on some solid sources. Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan gives a wonderful sum up in his translation of Chumash, "The Living Torah," and it is from there I would like to quote.

To start with, the places I am interested in speaking about are the places Yechezkel refers to in chapter 38 in connection with Gog. He speaks about Gog being of the land of Magog, and being the head prince of Meshech and Tuval. It is important to note that we are discussing the ancient locations of these peoples (as per the map above, taken from The Living Torah p. 42), but it is clear that they are no longer located in these places per se. Just as Edom, the descendants of Esav ended up in the area of Rome, these nations moved and migrated to different places. Their precise location now is up for grabs, and as the Malbim says in Yechezkel 38, we will only know who Gog and Magog actually are when they appear on the scene and fulfill what the Navi talks about.

In the Living Torah pp 38-39, Rav Kaplan is giving his explanations on the following passuk (Bereshis 10:2):
"The sons of Yefeth were Gomer, Magog, Madai, Yavan, Tuval, Meshekh, and Tiras."

Magog. Most probably a Teutonic people, living to the north of the Holy Land (cf. Ezekiel 38:2). ome sources identify Magog with Germania (Targum Yonathan; Targum on 1 Chronicles 1:5; Pesikta Zutratha). Others identify them with the Goths (Yerushalmi, Megillah 1:9). These were a Teutonic people who migrated to Scythia, in what is now southern Russia.

It is therefore not contradictory when some sources identify Magog with Scythia (Josephus; Yoma 10A, according to Rabbenu Chananel; Arukh s.v. Germamia). Ancient histories state that the Scythians came from Asia, driven by the Massagetae (cf. Meshekh, and settling enar the Cimerians (Herodotus 4:11; see above note). Linguistically, the Scythians were related to the Iranians, and hence, to the Persians and the Medes. It is therefore significant that there was a Persian tribe known as the Germanians (Herodotus 1:125).

Other sources note that Magog may denote the Mongols, whose very name may be a corruption of Magog. Indeed, Arab writers referred to the Great Wall of China as the "wall of al Magog" (Rabbi Aaron Marcus, Kesseth HaSofer, p. 112a).

Other ancient sources agree with the indentification of Magog as living to the north of the Black Sea (Yovloth 9:8).

To be continued...

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Singing for real

I would like to share the following story that has happened on a number of occasions, with slight variations. There is something deep and human about this experience, as you will soon see.

As you may know, Hashem sends me parnassah through music - I play and sing at weddings and other simchas. Quite often, there will be a guest at the affair who would like to sing, usually a friend of the chosson or a family member. On one such occasion, a young man who was mentally retarded came up to the stage and wanted to sing. He was accompanied by an adult who was encouraging him, and the sound man gave him a 'wireless' microphone. It was not connected to the sound system, but the young man did not realize this.

The young man stood next to me and was singing with me, very excited to be on stage, performing for a large crowd. He danced a little next to me, and made some dramatic movements, perhaps imitating some artist he had seen on video. At a certain point, he became aware of the fact that he could not hear his voice coming out of the speakers. His friend who was there to encourage him pointed to the speaker and made a thumbs up sign to indicate that the young man's voice was indeed audible (which it obviously was not). This interchange repeated itself a number of times.

Along the way, some other people noticed what was going on and offered their encouragement to the young retarded man as well, thus furthering his belief that indeed he was performing to an adoring crowd. At a certain point, he had performed enough (I think it was about 10-15 minutes), and he left the stage, completely proud of his great achievement.

I look at these type of 'performances' and wonder to myself, what is the message?

Many years ago, I spent some time taking voice lessons, and one of the things my voice teacher told me was that, "Your ego should always be one level beneath your talent." In other words, a person needs to be realistic about who he is and what his place in life is.

There are many people who would envision themselves as being an amazingly talented _______ (fill in the blank). And they will find 'yes' men who will encourage them and have them believe that indeed they possess that great ability. It would do us well to sometimes take a step back and ask ourselves why we are doing things. Do we get up to sing because we really want to (or have what to) contribute to someone else's simcha, or are we really just in it for our own ego? Is our opinion really the end all and the absolute truth, or have we surrounded ourselves with people who believe the same fiction we espouse?

Sometimes we may need to swallow the bitter pill of humility and realize that we may not be as great as we think. At that moment, we create the potential for rising to a much greater level in our spiritual growth.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Seeds of redemption

Before Purim, someone shared a beautiful pshat with me in the name of the Chasam Sofer (I believe).

If one goes back to the root of the miracle of Purim, we can trace the beginning stage to the party of Achashverosh that is described at the beginning of the story. During that party, the king asks Vashti to appear, but she refuses. In his anger, he heeds the advice to be rid of her, lest the women in the countries of his dominion learn of her intransigence and be led to do the same to their own husbands. Vashti is removed from the scene, leaving an opening for Esther to become a key player in the miracle of Purim.

What is most interesting is that the seeds for the miracle are sown at the very moment that the Jewish people were doing the sin that created the necessity for the miracle! They had been instructed by Mordechai to refrain from partaking in the party of Achashverosh, but they did not listen to the advice of the gadol. In their minds it was more important to join the party, as loyal citizens of Persia, rather than make a scene. Their mistake led to the decree of Haman to wipe out the Jewish people.

What comes out of it is that at the time the Jews were sinning and bringing upon themselves a great calamity, Hashem was concurrently preparing the miracle of their salvation. What an amazing chessed of Hashem! When His beloved people are straying from Him, in His great love He is thinking of them and creating the potential for the miracle of their salvation.

When I heard this idea, I could only think of our people today, many of whom may be entrenched in things that would pull us away from Hashem, ח"ו. Nevertheless, Hashem is constantly looking out for our best, planting the seeds of redemption even as we do things that perhaps make us unworthy! Could there be any greater kindness?

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Az die rebbe zingt

This is a video of my father (Mr. Murray Goldwag) singing in a nursing home in Jerusalem on February 28, 2009. My mother (Mrs. Meryl Goldwag) is accompanying him on the guitar. My father shared with me that of all the experiences he has had here in Israel since living here starting in September, this was one of the most enjoyable (besides for hanging out with his kids and grandkids). I think it attests to our need to give and the wonderful feeling we get when we do - it is tapping into our own root in Hashem's attribute of pure giving.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Purim gelt

Guest post by Daniel

Based on my best calculations, I gave very close to, or just over, $25 in tzedakah throughout Purim this year. I was makpid to the best of my ability to always give something to anyone that asked me.

Upon arriving back at my house, there was a letter waiting for me, literally right outside my door. It was a 6-week late birthday card from a non-Jewish relative of mine. They don't even know it's Purim this week, let alone what Purim is. There was cash enclosed totaling $25.
Baruch Hashem!

The money came right back to me in lightning speed. One thing this teaches me is that the true price of a mitzvah is not the financial expense. It's like my money was distilled, extracting the spirituality (the mitzvah) within it, if you can picture that, and then sent right back to me. So what was extracted in that process? What was the real "currency" that was used to "purchase" my mitzvos?
I believe it was the emunah muscles I had to flex each time I gave money, whether a dollar or a quarter.
It was the challenge of not only parting with my own money, but the challenge of ignoring the rants of the yetzer hara who challenges the worthiness of every beggar and collector that asks for help.
"Why is it always these types of people" "Why is he asking while I'm praying?" "Wasn't he here 10 minutes ago asking for money?" "They should get jobs instead of taking other people's money" and on and on.
The best response I found was to completely immerse myself in the mida of Hashem's chesed. In that way, it doesn't matter if they are or are not worthy in my eyes - in Hashem's view (lehavdil), as it were, they are all worthy of my tzedakah! It doesn't matter if the guy is coming back to ask for a second time, especially not on Purim.
Similarly, it doesn't matter if all I can afford to give out this year amounts to just $25 - the real currency, strengthening emunah and overcoming the yetzer hara, is present for each person as long as he gives according to his particular income.
From all of this, we should take great joy, for "G-d wished to give Israel merit, therefore he gave them much Torah and many commandments." (Mishnah Makos 3:16)

Ashreichem Yisroel!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Why drink?

Hi Mr. Goldwag,
I have a question if you don't mind. Why is it a mitzvah to get drunk on Purim??
I hope you are having a wonderful Purim!

On the surface level, the mitzvah has to do with the fact that the miracles of Purim came about because of the mishteh - the parties that occurred. The main one was the party Esther made for Achashverosh and Haman. Haman's downfall was in that party when Achasverosh was drunk and angry and had him killed. On a deeper level, the whole story of Purim is one of finding Hashem beneath the surface of the story - removing the 'mask' of what is truly deeper. Wine accomplishes this same thing - נכנס יין יצא סוד - when wine enters, the secret comes out. This really means that wine reveals what is behind the 'mask' of a person - who they really are - a reflection of Hashem.

have a wonderful Purim,
Ari Goldwag

Sunday, March 8, 2009


Did you ever understand the depth of why we get drunk on Purim? And why is it specifically to the point where we can't tell the difference between the cursed nature of Haman and the blessed nature of Mordechai? Find out in this special Purim edition of the Parsha Podcast!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Moshiach's appointed time

ליל שימורים הוא לה' להוציאם מארץ מצרים הוא הלילה הזה לה' שימרים לכל בני ישראל לדורותם - A night of protection is it unto Hashem, to take them out of the land of Egypt, [such is] this night unto Hashem, protection for all of the children of Israel for all their generations. (Shemos 12:42)

The ba'al haturim writes that the verse repeats the word שימורים - protection - to teach that Hakadosh baruch Hu split the night into two halves, one half for the Exodus from Egypt, and the other half for the future redemption.

Sforno writes that just as Hashem was anxiously awaiting (משמר - שימורים) for the redemption of the Jewish people as long as they were exiled in Egypt, so too He anxiously awaits the future redemption of Israel. He also explains that when the verse says that this night will be for all the children of Israel for all their generations, it means that just as the Exodus occurred in Nissan, so too the future redemption will occur in Nissan (See Rosh Hashana 11A).

The Or Hachaim explains the passuk as referring to five different miraculous events that occur on the night of the 15th of Nissan. 1) Avraham's victory over the four kings, 2) The Exodus from Egypt, 3) In the days of Chizkiyah when Gavriel struck Sancherev's army, 4) In the times of Mordechai & Esther when Achashverosh awoke at midnight and 5) The future redemption.

See Shirat Devorah's post relating to this.