Thursday, February 25, 2010

Tetzaveh & Purim - Hidden connection

Why is Moshe's name absent from this parsha? Why did he want to be erased? What is the deeper understanding of the obligation to erase the memory of Amalek? Why is Hashem's name left out of the megillah?

Find out in this week's Parsha Podcast.

Yosef, Yishmael, and Esav

Recently, in the daf (Sanhedrin 12) we were offered a look into the concept of Moshiach ben Yosef, which is discussed in the Maharsha. The gemara itself speaks of a 'news brief' that was given to Rava. Due to the sensitive nature of the briefing, it was said to him in a code that could only be deciphered by a serious talmid chacham. Literally, the code looked like this:

A pair came from Rekes, and was grabbed by an eagle. They had things in their hands made in Luz. In the merit of Mercy and their own merit, they left in peace. Furthermore, the loaded thighs of Nachshon wanted to set an appointee, but the known Edomi would not permit. But those who gather gathered and set this appointee in the month of the death of Aharon Hacohen.

Hard to crack?

Rashi cracks it like this:

A pair of Torah scholars came from Rekes, and was grabbed by an eagle, that is, Persian soldiers. They had things in their hands made in Luz - Techeles [which it seems was forbidden to be producing]. In the merit of Mercy and their own merit, they left in peace, and were able to escape. In another event, the loaded thighs of Nachshon - this refers to the Nasi, who was like a descendant of Nachshon, the first Nasi - wanted to "set an appointee" - this refers to the fact that he wanted to add a second Adar to the year, but the Roman government would not permit this to be done. The sages were able to gather together privately, at a very early time, in the month of Av, when Aharon died, to determine that they would indeed add a month.

When we get to the Maharsha, things start to get very interesting.

First, he asks some questions.

Why was it necessary to send this information in code form? What is the idea that they had Techeles which was made in Luz? What is the language of "in the merit of Mercy?" What is the concept that the Romans did not let them add the month? What is the significance of the fact that they gathered in the month of Av?

He begins by explaining that the Yishmaelite princes numbered twelve, as the Torah states at the end of Chayei Sarah. Nevertheless, the princes of the Jewish people are on a higher level than them. This is because the Yishmaelite princes do not have proper lineage on the side of Avraham, rather, a lineage that derives from their mother's side, and she was a maidservant. This is why it says "שנים עשר נשיאים לאמותם" - this refers to the side of their mother. The Jewish princes, however, have proper lineage from their father's side, as the verse says "למשפחותם לבית אבותם" - each to their family, to their fathers' house. Therefore, the firstborn rights come through the lineage of the father. This entitles them to thirteen princes. This is a result of the firstborn rights of Yosef, who was split into two tribes with two princes. This is the secret of the עיבור (the added month in a leap year), where the Jewish people enumerate twelve months, corresponding to the twelve tribes, and another leap month, which corresponds to the tribe of Yosef which was split into two tribes. This corresponds to the two months of Adar, whose Zodiac sign is the fish, like the bracha of Yosef "ידגו לרב" - and proliferate like fish.

This is why we find that our sages said that the offspring of Esav is solely given over to the offspring of Yosef, as the verse says [in Ovadiah], "[And the house of Yakov will be fire, and the house of Yosef will be a flame.] The house of Esav will be [like straw, and will be lit and consumed]." By Esav selling the first born rights to Yakov, and by Yakov taking the brachos, he was given the right to rule over his brother Esav. Yakov gave this ability to Yosef, as the passuk says, "And I have given you one more portion [over your brothers]." This is explicitly stated in chapter יש נוחלין. Therefore, even Yishmael, who has twelve princes לאמותם, and in their wars conquer Esav, they will nevetheless not completely finish Esav off. In the future, the offspring of Yosef and his Moshiach will become great, and Esav will be vanquished through him. This is because the people of Israel will be on a more exalted level than Yishmael, as they will have thirteen princes as a result of Yosef who was split into two tribes. This is the secret of the עיבור (the added month in a leap year), as we mentioned earlier, such that there are thirteen months on the calendar of the people of Israel, which is greater than the solar calendar of Esav, which only consists of twelve months. [It's interesting to note that Yishmael also has a lunar calendar, but without the leap month. -ag]

Based on this, the message was that 'a pair came...' This is because the people of Israel are compared to a pair of doves that only need their respective mate. This was said because of the two ruling powers, Edom and Yishmael. Yishmael is compared to an eagle because of the great power of its rulership, and because just as an eagle is an impure, carnivorous bird, so too, Yishmael has an aspect of impurity from his mother's side. We also find that the gemara in החובל refers to Yishmael as an impure bird.

It then states that the pair came 'from Rekes.' This is reference to the city of Teveria (Tiberias), and it was referred to as Rekes because of the people there who were empty there [rek = empty]. That was where the secret of the leap month was [as it would seem that the great court which decided on it was there at the time].

Then it says that they were caught by an eagle. This is referring to the fact that most of the Jewish people in exile are under the domain of Yishmael. It then says 'they had things made in Luz.' Luz is the city where the angel of death has no power, as it states in the gemara in Sotah. This represents the concept of the עיבור that is an eternal and unending power that will be used in the future to destroy the progeny of Esav and the power of the ס"מ (Satan). This is what the gemara means when it points out that Techeles was made in Luz, because the blue of the Techeles is reminiscent of the sea, which is reminiscent of the sky, which is reminiscent of the Throne of Hashem's Glory. The throne will be complete at that time. This is what is meant when it says 'in the merit of Mercy,' that the name of Hashem's mercy will then be complete, as we find that our sages say that Hashem's name and throne will not be complete until that time. In this merit, the Jewish people will leave the hands of Yishmael in peace [as is hinted in the code].

"The loaded thighs of Nachshon" also refers to the secret of the עיבור, as it refers to the princes and kings, as well as Moshiach the king, who are descended from him. "They wanted to set an appointee" refers to the extra month of the עיבור, which hints to the offspring of Yosef which was split into two tribes like the two Adars whose Zodiac sign is represented by fish - plural [meaning, more than one fish]. And being that Esav and his power [which stems from the forces of evil] will fall at his hand, the 'known Edomi did not allow.' This is reference to the Roman rulership and the powers of the ס"מ (Satan).

"Those who would gather gathered," however, in the areas under the rulership of Yishmael to set the 'appointee' [i.e. the leap month], and this was necessary to be done in a hidden and secretive manner so that Esav and the powers of the ס"מ would not realize. Therefore they did this in the month that Aharon Hacohen passed away [i.e. Av], to prevent Esav from realizing that they were gathering to add a month to the year. This subterfuge would be accomplished because it was the month that Esav and the forces of evil had succeeded in destroying the Temple.

Based on this, the gemara had said earlier, in regards to the secret of the leap month (עיבור), that a month was added when the young birds were still small, the sheep were still thin, and the spring had not yet arrived. The young birds are reference to כנסת ישראל [lit. the gathered of Israel, but actually refers to a deep kabbalistic concept], who are compared to a dove. The fact that they were young refers to the concept that they have no strength. [Perhaps this refers to the fact that the Jewish people are compared to the moon, with no light of its own. -ag] The sheep also refer to the people of Israel who are compared to a שה פזורה (spread out sheep). These sheep are thin, like the Jewish people who are in a weakened state in exile. The time of spring refers to the beginning of the sprouting and development of the redemption, which has still not arrived. For this reason it was necessary to add on a month of thirty days - this refers to the secret of the leap month, which corresponds to the offspring of Yosef who will destroy the offspring of Esav. Then the Throne of Hashem's Glory, and His name [of Mercy] will be complete, may it be speedily in our days, amen.

End quote of the Maharsha.

There is a lot to think about here, and I'd like to give you some food for thought. It is clear that this secret code is not just something that occurred in the times of Rava, rather, it is actually a blueprint for the future advent of Moshiach ben Yosef. Read over the Maharsha, and see what the ramifications of that might be.

It is also extremely interesting that the secret adding of the month is occurring in the month of Av. As the Maharsha said, this is done to fool Esav and the forces of evil. It could be that since the future redemption is rooted in that month, it therefore makes a lot of sense that Av will be a month of great celebration after Moshiach has come. I would like to again point out that the month of Av this year is an extremely significant point in time, as it represents 12:30 on Friday afternoon in cosmic time, as we discussed in an earlier post. It is clear from the Maharsha that Av is an essential month in Moshiach ben Yosef process.

One final thought that just occurred to me, is that the meaning of the name of Yosef is 'to add on.' Interestingly, it can also mean 'to take away.' This is what Rochel herself said when she named him - "Hashem has taken away my embarrassment." Then she said "Hashem should add on another son." This dual connotation, which is clearly paradoxical, is also contained in the concept of the עיבור, the added month. This month sometimes appears, and is sometimes taken away, but in truth, it is the concept of the בכורה, which is the higher dimension of spirituality, being brought down into this world. Just like the Aron Hakodesh, which both existed in this world, and at the same time took up no space, Yosef and the עיבור month have this characteristic as well. In fact, the extra month itself is what allows the lunar and solar calendars to stay in sync. This corresponds to the concept of Yosef, who connects the spiritual and physical worlds, which are also represented by the lunar and solar calendars, respectively.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Yosef, reveal your light

I must preface my new song with the following introduction. It is a very delicate decision for me to place the song here, especially since I plan on using it in the very near future on a professional musical album. I ask that if you choose to encourage others to hear it, you link to this site, and not put it on any other sites. I hope I am not being unwise by placing it in a public place, but rather that my request will be respected. I hope to be able to do similar types of posts in the future, if all goes well.

The story behind the song is that I recently played at the Bar-Mitzvah of R' Daniel Krentzman's brother-in-law, and after the simcha was over, we were talking, as usual, about exciting Torah topics. In the course of the conversation, he made a request of me to write a song about Moshiach ben Yosef. I initially balked at the idea. The concept is virtually unknown in the Jewish world. How could I write a song about the idea, without it being a total turn off? I told him that if it would be done, it would need to be done very subtly, perhaps interwoven into the story of Yosef.

The result of that conversation was the song that follows. The theme of the song is the story of Yosef, and the underlying theme of Moshiach ben Yosef could easily be overlooked by those not familiar with the concept. I hope to include it in an album I am producing in the near future, and to also give a brief explanation in the cover about the concept of Moshiach ben Yosef, giving people a little taste of that 'hidden light.'

Please click here to hear the song.

A heavenly light shone upon his mind
Revealing the path that he was to find.
The dreams that he dreamt, reflected this glow
He knew of his mission, his God-given role.

A guide he would be, for his nation's first growth
They'd bow to his wisdom, embracing his hope
In all that would be, he'd show them the hand
Of Hashem's guiding love, the bright future He planned.

Yosef, one day the world will know
Your dreams will be fulfilled and your heart will overflow
Yosef, you'll teach all of mankind
Reveal that secret light, let it shine for all time

So young at that time, the vision he'd share
Arousing such hatred, his brothers would dare
To send him away, left only to fate
But he'd never allow his heart to wallow in hate

Wherever he'd go, Hashem's name was on his tongue
Success somehow followed every deed that was done
Each challenge he'd face with an unswerving faith
'Til the day he was freed, to prominence raised

When their paths crossed again, the brothers seemed blind
To him it was clear that it now was the time
To cleverly guide and help them reclaim
The greatness inside, have it fanned to a flame

They stood, as a wall, 'round their father's last son
They'd accomplished the goal, now they'd all join as one
Their betrayal and shame, he dismissed out of hand
It was all but a part of Hashem's masterplan.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Terumah - In and out of reality

What is the deeper concept of donating to and creating the sanctuary specifically for Hashem's name? What does it really mean that the Jewish people create a sanctuary, and then Hashem dwells in the midst of the people? What is the deeper significance of the Aron (ark)? What is being taught when our sages tell us that it took up no physical space, and that it carried those who carried it? What is the deeper connection between the ark and the sanctuary?

Find out in this week's Parsha Podcast.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Help Save Martin Grossman's life

I called. Please do the same.

To Friends and Constituents of Agudath Israel:

We are little more than 24 hours away from the scheduled execution, Rachmona litzlan, of Martin Grossman, Michoel Yechiel ben Miriam Sorah.

I wish I would have positive news to report, but the best I can say at this time is that there is still hope his life can be spared. His lawyers have a legal motion pending before the U.S. Supreme Court, on which the Court is expected to rule by tomorrow morning. The effort to persuade Florida Governor Charlie Crist to stay the execution and grant him a new clemency hearing also continues on a variety of fronts.

Our Gedolei Yisroel have asked us to do whatever we can to help save our brother's life. Therefore, at this moment of ne'ilas she'arim, let us continue to let the Governor know how strongly we feel about this matter. Please, even if you have already contacted his office, call him tonight or tomorrow morning at 850- 488-5603 to respectfully request that Martin Grossman's life be spared. (Note: This is a different number than the one we circulated last week; we are told that the other number, 850-488-7146, may not be operative at this time.)

The community's response to this tragic situation has been nothing short of overwhelming. May our display of ahavas Yisroel, together with our ongoing tefillos, find favor in the Eyes of the King of all kings, in whose Hands the hearts of all earthly leaders reside.

Chaim Dovid Zwiebel

See for updated info.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Mishpatim - Partners in Reality

What is the significance of the angel that guides the Jewish people into Israel? Why does Hashem hint to the future sin of the Jewish people at the very time that they are coming into their relationship with Hashem? Why does this angel (Michael) act in a mode of strict justice if it usually corresponds to the attribute of Mercy? What does Rashi mean when he says that just as the previous parsha was from Sinai, so too our parsha? Why was the Sanhedrin placed next to the Temple? Why was it important to explain the deeper meanings of the commandments to the Jewish people?

Find out in this week's Parsha Podcast.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

He will come, without delay

I present the third installment of the book צפית לישועה, Longing for Redemption. The Chofetz Chaim was the master of the mashal, and here you will find a very beautiful one helping us to understand how it is that the Galus is so long, and yet, "He will come without delay." I hope you enjoy.

Tzipisa Le'yeshua - Chapter 2

It is well known that anyone who does not believe in the coming of Moshiach is plagued with a sin that is too great to bear, because he lacks one of the thirteen fundamental beliefs of Judaism. Similarly, one who does not wait for Moshiach's arrival, for whatever reason despairing of ever seeing his times, is a 'close cousin' of the first sinner, and is considered a denier of the Torah. The Rambam says as follows (Hilchos Melachim 11), "Moshiach, the king, will arise in the future, and return the house of David to its former glory and power. He will build the Temple and gather the dispersed of Israel. All of the laws will return in his day as in previous times. Sacrifices will be brought, and the Shemitah and Yovel laws will be fulfilled as is detailed in the Torah. Whoever does not believe in him or does not wait for his arrival (meaning that he has despaired of Moshiach ever coming, for whatever reason), not only does he show contempt for all the other prophets, but in fact, he shows contempt for the Torah itself, and for Moshe Rabbenu. The Torah explicitly testifies about it, 'And Hashem your God will return your captivity and have mercy on you and return to gather you... If your dispersed will be at the edge of the Earth, from there He will gather you... and Hashem your God will bring you to the land...'"

Truthfully, we need to contemplate on times past in order to understand what will be in the future. When we left Egypt, Hashem promised us a number of good things. It thus says in Yehoshua (23), "And Yehoshua called out to all of Israel and said to them... you will know with all of your heart and soul that, of all the good Hashem promised to you, you received it all, without exception." Based on this, we can contemplate, even now, how certainly Hashem will fulfill the promises He made in the sections of the Torah which speak of redemption. It says, "Supple plants will dry out, but the word of our God will stand forever." Besides for the promises He said explicitly in the Torah, His promises about the future redemption were repeated through all His servants, the prophets - Yeshaya, Yirmiya, Yechezkel and in Trei-Asar. Each one contains prophecies about the future redemption, as well as the exalted level the people of Israel will enjoy at that time. All of them will attain the level of prophecy, as it says (Yoel 3), "And afterwards I will pour out my spirit on all flesh, and your sons and daughters will prophesy..." They furthermore write of all the honor that the people of Israel will receive from all the people of the world, as it says, "And they will bring an offering to Hashem, with all your brothers from the nations... as the children of Israel bring the offering in a pure vessel." And it says, "Your sons and daughters will be brought, carried on their shoulders." The verse encapsulated it by saying, "No eye has seen, but yours, God, that which will be done for those who wait for it."

The concept of the delay of the redemption was already hinted to us by Hashem Himself through the prophet Hoshea (3), "For many days the children of Israel sat and requested [the return of] Hashem their God, and their king David, and [they expressed] their fear to Hashem and [they awaited] the good of the end of days." Furthermore, it says, "If he tarries, wait for him." The explanation of this is that if a person would think that, heaven forbid, He has broken his promise with the people of Israel, it is not really true. Rather, "wait for him" - meaning, like someone waiting for an event he knows will certainly occur, as the verse says, "Supple plants will dry out, but the word of our God will stand forever."

And the verse finishes off, "He will certainly come with no delay." [This would seem to be a contradiction, as we just stated that "if he will tarry, wait for him."] This can be explained with a story. There was once a king who was angry with his son, and decreed that he would have to leave the palace for five years. The son was sent to a faraway land at the edge of the world that required years of travel to reach [as it was before the advent of modern modes of transportation]. Afterwards, the king regretted his decision, however he could not annul the decree. He pondered what could be done, and realized that even once the five years were up, it would still take a few years for the son to travel back home. The king therefore commanded that all the mountains standing in the path be razed, and that all the new means of transportation in the world be used to bring him back to the palace quickly. This way the prince's trip home would proceed without any unnecessary delay.

So it is with us. We have been spread out to the farthest reaches of the Earth, and every Jew will need to return from exile, as it says, "Each and every one of you will be gathered, children of Israel." Therefore, the gathering of the entire Jewish people should naturally take many years. But the truth is that it will not be that way. Hashem has made all the preparations in advance so the ingathering will not take longer than necessary.

This is what it means, "If he tarries, wait for him." If you would then think that the actual ingathering will take a long time, [especially now that he has taken so long to come] - the verse therefore says, "He will certainly come without delay." This means that when the designated time arrives, there will be no delay whatsoever at that point. This is what the verse refers to when it says, "Who are these that fly like a cloud?" This means that the ingathering will take place at a rapid pace, like a cloud moves quickly across the sky.

The very fact that the redemption is delayed has a straightforward explanation. The verse says [in reference to the Jewish people's return from the exile of Egypt] that "the fourth generation will return here, because until then, the sin of the Emori will not be complete." In that context, there were only seven nations, and nevertheless, it was necessary to wait several hundred years until their sins deemed them unworthy before the promise to Avraham could be fulfilled. In our times, the entire world needs to be purified, and all the nations need to come under the domain of Hakadosh Baruch Hu and His king Moshiach. This is stated in the verse in Daniel (7), "And to he will be given dominion, honor, and rulership." Therefore, it must take a substantial amount of time. Furthermore, the original redemption [from Egypt] only lasted for a limited amount of time, as it says in the holy works [of kabbalah], but the final redemption will be the end of all exile, with none to follow it. Therefore, all the rectifications must be completed for the blemishes in the people of Israel from the time they became a nation. The length of the exile serves to rectify all of this, and the exile acts as a great purifier, separating the evil from the good. This is what we find at the end of Daniel, "Great separations and purifications will occur..." This requires a lengthy amount of time.

Heaven forbid should we despair as a result of Moshiach's lateness, and specifically since the prophet told us about it from the beginning that "even if he tarries, wait for him, for he will certainly come..." Not one word of Hashem will be left unfulfilled, heaven forbid, as we say in the blessings after the Haftarah, "And not one of your words will be left unfulfilled." This concept should especially not be despaired of, as it is not only mentioned once, but it is mentioned numerous times in the many different prophets, as well as the many statements from the sages of the Gemara. It is a main foundation of the beliefs of the people of Israel, as we say in the first blessing [of the Amidah], "And He brings a redeemer to the sons of their sons." It is further incumbent upon us not to despair, especially in our times where the state of the people of Israel has reached an all-time low, both physically and spiritually. This is as the verse states, "Our soul has been brought down to the dust," which is reference to the soul of the people of Israel, as is clearly the state of the youth of our nation, "Our stomach has clung to the ground," which is reference to the lowly physical state of the Jewish people. Certainly we need to stand ready, waiting for salvation, in the language of the aforementioned verse, "Wait for him." This means we need to stand ready, as one would wait for a guest who is on his way. Who knows, perhaps he is already just around the corner.

Praiseworthy is the one who does not despair of waiting for the redemption, but gives heart for himself and his children to learn much Torah and perform many mitzvos, so that he not be embarrassed at that time. Only in the current state of the world, which is compared to night, do we find that all is concealed, and one can not see the advantage of the righteous one over the evil one. In the times of Moshiach, however, everything will be clear. This concept is found in the targum of Koheles on the verse, "In the end, all is heard." He translates this to mean that all that is done in the world will eventually be publicized. Each person will be honored according to the Torah and mitzvos that he has attained. This is underscored by the verse which refers to that time, "And you will return and you will see the distinction between one who served God and one who did not."

Rav Mendel Kessin in RBS

Rabbi Mendel Kessin will be returning to the RBS community and giving shiur in English. He is an internationally known speaker who has spoken extensively in Israel and worldwide on many topics of Hashkafa, Shmirat Ha'Lashon, and Current Events.

The shiur will be entitled:

"Removing the Mask of Purim: The True Story behind Purim and its Relevance to Current Events"

Date: Sunday February 21st 2010

Time: 8 to 10:00 PM

Location: Ramat Shalom, 43 Nachel Dolev, RBS Aleph

Separate Seating for Men and Women

Price: 25 NIS per person

Monday, February 8, 2010

Longing for Redemption - Part 2

Here is the continuation of the book צפית לישועה of the Chofetz Chaim. What follows is the rest of the first chapter which we began in the previous post.

However, the truth is that our sages of blessed memory also told us from the onset that not everyone would be at this exalted level, and that a new generation will arise that would be the exact opposite of the earlier ones. This generation will be at an extremely low spiritual level, and each person will behave as he sees fit (and they will not accept rebuke, as the mishna explains). Nevertheless, we must not view this with despair, because this very thing is a sign of impending redemption. The first group will bring about the redemption with their good deeds, and the second group will also play a role in bringing the redemption.

In previous generations, the generations went as they were supposed to, and all of the people of Israel continued in the tradition that was passed down from father to son, and the children received the lessons of faith and religion from their parents with love and devotion. (And as accords with proper moral conduct, which is a prerequisite for Torah, children would respect the wisdom of their parents and our Holy faith, the tradition of which was passed down through the generations going all the way back to the generation of the 600,000 men above the age of twenty, besides for the women and children, that stood at Sinai. They saw everything with their own eyes, as the verse says, "This day we saw that God will speak with man and he will live.") This is as we say in the prayers, "His words are alive and standing... upon our fathers and upon us and our children and all the generations..." All of the desire of both parents and children was only to have the merit of Torah and good deeds and to do the will of their Father in heaven. At that time, the pressure for the advent of the redemption was not as great, because the general condition of the faith was as it was supposed to be, and as the exile of the Jewish people continued, their merits only amassed more and more. This was from the patience they had, waiting and longing for Moshiach for such a long time, staying strong in their faith and longing for salvation. Like our sages say in Sanhedrin (97) that just as we are waiting, so Hakadosh Baruch Hu is waiting to redeem us, as the verse says, "Therefore Hashem will wait to show you favor..." So if we are waiting, and so is He, why has Moshiach not yet come? To make the reward even greater - this is why Hashem has not hastened the end.

However, this was all true when the transmission of the tradition of our religion and the roots of faith were strong, and there was no weakness in the fulfillment of the Torah and mitzvos in regards to faith. But in our times, so many people have abandoned the Torah path, our holy religion is desecrated with false ideas conveyed by the media that penetrates into the depths of the nation, and the flame of pure faith threatens to be extinguished in the hearts of the youth of Israel. Many have begun to refuse to accept the traditions of their parents, believing they are wiser than all the previous generations. Furthermore, the wise ones and holy people of previous times who sacrificed their lives to keep every detailed law - their honor is meaningless to them. They even have the gall to speak against the holy sages of the Mishna and Gemara, who in reality were like heavenly angels. Woe unto us that we have witnessed this in our times, the very fulfillment of our sages prophecy that "[in the steps leading to Moshiach,] brazenness will abound."

As a result of this attitude, parents do not have the ability to faithfully convey our tradition of love of Torah and mitzvos to their children. That being the case, there is no longer a positive aspect to the exile being lengthened, seeing as the tradition is being cut off, heaven forbid (and furthermore, we find the opposite, that children have a negative impact on their parents). Therefore Hashem must bring the redemption speedily, to open the eyes of the spiritually blind to again see with the light of Truth, for heaven forbid, Hashem will not leave his children to be pushed away, as the verse says, "Not one will be pushed away." For they are his children, the ones He took and has carried since days of yore, as the verse says, "And even this, when they are in the land of their enemies (meaning, that Hashem exiled Israel so they would better their ways when they are oppressed, and continue to do this even there, nevertheless,) I did not reject them nor find them disgusting, nor bring an end to them, nor annul my covenant with them." Our sages explained, "I did not reject them" refers to the days of the Chaldeans when I gave them Daniel, Chananiah, Misha'el and Azaryah. "Or find them disgusting" refers to the time of the Greeks, when I gave them Shimon Hatzadik and the Chasmonaim and sons. "Nor bring an end to them" refers to the days of Haman when I gave them Mordechai and Esther. "Nor annul my covenant with them" refers to the days of the Persians when I gave them those of the house of Rebbe, "For I am their God."

We thus find that the two types of people that will be in the end of times will both take part in bringing the redemption. The first group through its good deeds and the difficulties they endure, and the second group, through its bad deeds. Obviously, it is better to be part of the first group, to be among those doing good, and not among those doing bad. All this is hinted to in the Torah in Parshas Ha'azinu, which is also referring to the times of redemption (as our sages explained in Sanhedrin 97), as it says in the verse, "For Hashem will judge his people and have mercy on his nation, He will see that they have lost all hope and all seems lost." This is what it means when it says that "Hashem will judge his people" - he will have mercy in order to redeem them (as Rashi there explains). This is because his servants are in difficulty, and there is fear that "hope is lost" - this means that the people of Israel do not have the power to continue in their exile; "for all seems lost" - this means that those who hold onto their tradition have no more strength to hold on.

In a similar vein, our sages explain in Sanhedrin (ibid), based on this verse, that [Moshiach] ben Dovid will not come until there are many who will inform on others. This refers to the fact that the leaders will have no more power to uphold the tradition. Another explanation - "[Moshiach will not come until] there are very few students." Rashi explains that this means there will be very few who will return the people to the proper path. Thus we see that there will be those who will be faithful servants of Hashem, however, they will be few, and unable to prevent the rampant loss of faith on the part of their brothers. We find something similar in the verse (Yirmiyah 31) in regards to the time of redemption, "I shall plant the house of Israel, seeds of man and seeds of beast." And it is written in the Gemara (Sotah 22) that "seeds of beast" refers to people are not learned in Tanach, Mishna and Gemara. Again, we see that there will be two types of people, as we said, and both types will aid in advancing the redemption.

What we see here is that the state of the Jewish people in our times gives us every reason to hope, even moreso, for the revelation of the honor of Hashem in the world. This is the simple understanding of the verse, "I swear, so says Hashem, the world will be filled with the honor of Hashem." Therefore, every Jew needs to take heart and think deeply into what will happen when Moshiach will arrive - who will be respected and who will be deeply satisfied? Only one who has clung tightly to Hashem, despite the difficulties of the times. If despite the poverty and constant challenges, Jews remained faithful to Hashem and his Torah, the light of Hashem will shine brightly upon their faces, each one according to his level in knowledge of Torah and fulfillment of Mitzvos. This is what we find in Tanna D'bei Eliyahu (1), "What is the measure of the light of the Torah scholar and the righteous in the times of [Moshiach] ben Dovid and the world to come?" There it mentions a number of levels. There are those whose faces shine like the small stars, and those whose shine will be like the larger stars (as the verse says, "Those who act on behalf of the public are like stars forever"), while others shine with light like the moon at the beginning of the month, others like the tenth of the month, and others like the full moon. Still others' faces will shine like the sun in the early morning, and others like the sun at the third hour of the day... still others' faces will shine like the sun at midday. All of this is hinted to in the verse, "And his beloved ones are like the sun coming out in its strength."

A similar idea is stated there in chapter 5 as well, "The righteous will have honor and strength in this world and the next. How is this? Hakadosh baruch hu sits in His study hall, and the righteous of all generations sit in front of Him. Each one is given light upon his face according to the measure of Torah that is within him."

Also, be aware that according to the previous explanation, at the end of the exile there will be many incorrect ideas, and there will be those who will be separated from Torah and mitzvos. Therefore, those who strengthen themselves at that time to go in the paths of Hashem and to learn His Torah and fulfill His commandments will be referred to as Righteous ones. This is what the verse refers to when it says, "And your nation - all are righteous" - this refers to those who remain steadfast to Hashem and are not seduced by the sinners (this is what is written in the book Avakas Rochel by the student of the Rosh z'l).

Therefore, every person must now strengthen himself in his knowledge of Torah and fulfillment of mitzvos, because once Moshiach arrives, it will be called the 'years that have no desire.' As the verse says, "Remember your creator in the days of your youth, before the days of evil come; and then will come years that you will say, 'I have no desire in them.'" Our sages said that this refers to the times of Moshiach that have neither merit nor demerit, because the Evil Inclination will then be annulled.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Yisro - finding the true God

What is the significance of Yisro 'hearing' about the miracles Hashem performed for the Jewish people? Why does he first speak about Elokim, and only then about Hashem (Havaya)? What new information does Moshe give to Yisro, causing him to rejoice? What does he mean when he says, 'Now I knows that Hashem (Havaya) is greater than all of the other gods (elohim)? What is the significance of the meal of Yisro and it being in front of Elokim? Why does he bring sacrifice to Elokim (as opposed to Havaya)? Why does the Torah seem to connect this story to the following story where Yisro advises Moshe to delegate power to others?

Find out in this week's Parsha Podcast.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Longing for Redemption

The following is the first part of a translation I am posting. It is a short composition that I found in the complete writings of the Chofetz Chaim. It is entitled צפית לישועה - Longing for Redemption. It is quite an interesting little piece, and he addresses some of the issues we have dealt with here, but of course with the great depth of a Gadol Hador. I hope you enjoy.

Chapter 1

In our times, we see that in many places our religion has been greatly weakened, to the point where children, from a young age, are disconnected from the study of Hashem's Torah, an event which did not occur in previous times. When we look into this well, the reasons for this involve a number of different matters. The main reason is a weakening in the fundamental beliefs of Judaism - the belief in an Eternal World to come, ultimate reward and punishment, in the advent of Moshiach, and the ultimate goals and roles of the Jewish people as described in the Torah. These very matters are what has given the Jewish people the fortitude to undergo many difficulties throughout the generations, and to stand up for their faith unstintingly, both for themselves and their children. It would have been greater for a father to watch his son be slaughtered in front of his very eyes for the sake of Hashem, rather than watch his child be raised in a world of affluence that veered away from the true path of Torah and Mitzvos.

In our times, the Satan has succeeded, through the aid of his many minions, in weakening the roots of faith from within the people of Israel, whether it is in regards to the concept of reward and punishment, or the words of the prophets describing our lofty goals. When they see the difficulties they must endure each day, they can not help but think that Hashem has hidden Himself from us completely. This causes them to give up hope of ever seeing the redemption, and they do not wait for the Heavenly Kingdom at all. Each person thus develops rationalizations that he must support his family, whether it will be in a permitted or forbidden manner.

Beyond this, we find that even straight and good people, when they see the spiritual degeneration of others who have thrown off the obligations of the Torah, and who have made light of stringent matters (for example the desecration of Shabbos, about which the Torah says "those who desecrate it will die" and family purity, which the Torah equates with all forbidden relations), the hearts of these faithful people fall within them and they give up hope. They say to themselves, "How can we hold out our hope in such a generation that Hashem will have mercy, despite the way His people desecrate His Torah in such a horrible way?" As a result of this, their hope is completely weakened, and they do not believe they can even try to help anyone else from falling into the deep pit of spiritual destruction.

Therefore, I felt an obligation upon myself to give the proper perspective on this matter, which is truly the opposite of what one might have thought. The truth is that in our times, there is actually more reason to believe that the redemption is close, and therefore more reason to hope for an imminent salvation. This is despite the impression one would get from reading the Torah's description of the state of the Jewish people immediately prior to the redemption. In Parshas Nitzavim, where it describes this condition, the Torah says that the redemption will occur when we will "all return to Hashem to listen to His voice according to all the commandment that He commanded, with all our heart and all of our souls - we and our children." Then Hashem will "return our captivity, etc." The way things look today, our generation would not seem to fulfill this condition at all. This could give one cause to give up hope, as we wrote before, but the resolution to this difficulty will be given shortly.

In truth, this very question can be posed in regards to numerous statements of chazal themselves, that were given over in the Mishna and Gemara in regards to the signs of the times before the redemption. These descriptions do not paint a positive picture at all, as we find at the end of the Mishnayos of Sotah and Sanhedrin (97). There it states that in the steps leading to Moshiach (עקבתא דמשיחא), brazenness will abound, etc., and there will be no room for rebuke. The young will embarrass their elders, elders will stand [in respect] before children, a son will curse his father, a daughter will rise up against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. A man's enemies will be the members of his own household, etc. The list there continues; The wisdom of the sages will be rejected, those who fear sin will be viewed with disgust, the Truth will be hidden. In Sanhedrin it states that this means that the truth will 'line up and leave,' in other words, the Truth will be emptied from the world to a greater extent with each passing day. It says there further that [Moshiach] Ben Dovid will not come... until there are many who will inform on others; as well as many other similar ideas, some of which are based on verses in the Torah and prophets. We see that all of these have been fulfilled in our generation (and also all the concepts in regards to extreme poverty have also occurred).

All this would seem to be very difficult to understand in light of the fact that the Torah itself seems to say that the Jewish people will look completely different in the age before the advent of Moshiach. At that time, the Torah says we will return to Hashem, as it states explicitly, "And it will be when these things come upon you... the blessing and curse, and you will return to Hashem your God, and you will listen to His voice etc. Then Hashem will return your captives etc." These verses represent the promise of Hashem that it will indeed be so, as the Ramban explains.

There are a number of different approaches that can help us understand this matter (see the gemara there in Sanhedrin 97B and 98), but the simplest understanding, which explains this on the most elemental level, is that really both aspects are true. At the end of time, immediately prior to redemption, there will be two types of people. Both types will help to hasten the redemption, as we will explain.

There will be a portion of the people of Israel who will strengthen themselves to serve Hashem with all of their hearts and all of their souls; both themselves and their children. These are the ones who have perfect faith in the traditions of our people, who serve Hashem in this generation. They do so despite the rampant secularization that has risen to try to stamp out and destroy religious observance through the many books and media that are available, as well as the designs of the Evil Inclination himself which lead one to follow his desires for physical pursuits. All of these forces cause many to disdain their obligations to Heaven and the study of Torah and the performance of Mitzvos. At such a time, there are those who remain steadfast to the faith of Israel, who redouble their efforts to keep all the laws of the Torah, without letting themselves become weakened. Likewise, they teach their children to hold onto the Torah of Hashem, not to stray to the right nor to the left from that which it says. Certainly, the level of this group is extremely high, for maintaining this commitment involves tremendous self-sacrifice. Not only must they go against the tide, but they are derided by others, even more than the derision that was experienced by previous generations, for steadfastly clinging to the faith of their forefathers. We can understand their great level in light of the statement that is found in Avos D'rebbe Nosson. There it states that "One [mitzvah performed] with pain is equal to one hundred [mitzvos performed] without pain." Thus, one who serves Hashem in our times is pure and clean, because he receives no honor for his observance. If anything, he is ridiculed by certain types of people.

There are also those that are determined to provide their children with a proper Jewish education. In order to do so, they accept upon themselves to live a life of financial pressure all their lives, eking out a living, much of which is given to pay the tuition of their children. This is all to insure that their children will be given a strong background in the Torah of Hashem. They do not go to far off places where it is easier to make a living, but rather, remain where they are, solely to guarantee that their children will receive a proper education in Torah and fear of Hashem. We can certainly say that this is considered 'returning to Hashem with all one's heart and soul.'

And similarly, there are the young individuals who who hear the call of Hashem, and devote their days and nights to studying the Torah of Hashem. They allow their faces to turn dark from a lack of food, in their quest to be attached to the Torah of Hashem and His mitzvos with all of their efforts and desire. When there are many who would disturb and ridicule them, they strengthen themselves to uphold their covenant of holiness in Torah and service of Hashem, and all their commitment to all that is written in the Torah and prophets. All of this is holy to them, and their exalted level rises up greatly at a time such as this. These young men of Israel withstand the test of difficult times, and despite the difficulty they endure, strengthen themselves to keep the laws of Hashem with all of their ability. They force themselves to live with crusty bread and a bit of water so that nothing improper should enter their mouths. Thus, despite their hunger and thirst, they continue in this way for days and years, without heaven forbid rebelling against Hashem. Rather, they focus on what they lack in Torah and mitzvos, and that which they must strive to improve spiritually. Is this not "returning to Hashem with all of one's heart and all of one's soul?" Their service of Hashem is perfectly complete, and the merit of any one of them alone would bring many others to be judged for good.

Similarly, we see that the holiness of the nation of Israel remains, despite the difficulties that continue to plague us with each passing day. We see this in those who strengthen themselves with all of their souls to keep the laws of the Torah, both they and their children, and they come to pray, weeping and confessing in front of Hashem, all this while declaring Hashem's righteousness. They set times to learn, and despite their poverty and difficult circumstances, continue to have mercy on others and to perform acts of kindness, with all their ingenuity. In regards to all of these people, it is easy to apply the verse, "and it will be when these matters come upon you, the blessing and the curse that I placed before you, and you will return to your heart, etc... and you will hear His voice as all I command you today, you and your children, with all of your heart and with all of your soul." These people who remain steadfast to their faith return to their hearts and know the great gravity of Hashem's service and the Mitzvos that are incumbent upon them, and they sacrifice in order to fulfill the Torah, both they and their children.

To be continued...

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Mussar today

Guest post by R' Alan Morinis

Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe published his great work of Mussar, “Alei Shur,” in the 1990s. This great scion of the Mussar yeshivas of Lithuania passed away in 2005. These two facts serve to underline how recently we had a Mussar master living among us. And because he lived so recently, he was aware of the modern world and of us who inhabit it.

Another factor that contributed to Rabbi Wolbe’s sensitivity to contemporary life is revealed in the fact that the name his parents gave him at his birth was August Wilhelm Wolbe. He was raised in a non-observant Jewish home in Berlin, and he had a secular education at the University of Berlin (1930-1933). As his religious and spiritual life developed, he eventually found his way to the Mir yeshiva in Poland, where he became a student of the Mussar mashgiach [supervisor] there, Rabbi Yerucham Levovitz.

When I study “Alei Shur” and I read Rabbi Wolbe’s teachings, I hear a voice that understands people today, people like you and me. I want to share one teaching that I think makes this point very clearly, and that highlights how modern Mussar differs from the millennium of the tradition that came before.

Rabbi Wolbe wrote one chapter in “Alei Shur” titled, “Difference between the Generations” and he identifies right in the first sentence that he is concerned with differences as they affect the learning and practice of Mussar. “Until the Holocaust, European Jewry were people more exacting in knowledge and more self-assessing in regard to problems of living.” He acknowledges that the material conditions of life were much worse in those times, but they were an incomparably spiritual generation, he says. We enjoy an improved economic and social situation, but we are much lower in our level of spiritual elevation and greatness in Torah.

Rabbi Wolbe accounts for the difference: we have no personal experience of what true greatness looks or feels like. “When today we speak of the elevated status [romemut] of a human being, it is very hard for students to understand the meaning of the words; the role-models of true elevation are few, and most of those who study Torah have not met close-up the remaining few great ones among us.”

So we live in a materially wealthy but spiritually impoverished age in which role models of spiritual greatness are not readily available to us. Rav Wolbe also says: we are not as tough as previous generations. We can’t take criticism. When a person of this generation becomes aware of personal imperfections and failings, Rav Wolbe says, that softness translates into a tendency to get depressed and even to despair. Later in the book he elaborates to say that this is a pitfall of Mussar practice in general—as you learn Mussar and come to see how far from the ideal you may be in certain ways, your mind sees only the deficiency. What it can’t see is the effect your study and practice is having on the sub-conscious. So the picture the mind sees is unbalanced in favor of the deficiency, which can lead to unwarranted despair.

The previous generation was tougher and could bear the bad news that they were not perfect, without being crushed by this discovery. We live in a world in which a flimsy pretence of getting it right is preferred to the deep and obvious truth that life is a journey of growing and we all have some growing to do.

Here Rabbi Wolbe makes a programmatic point, which I find very helpful, even essential. Before anyone starts talking about where he or she has room to grow in his or her inner life, or to use even more direct language, where he or she detects shortcomings, that person needs to spend a good, long period internalizing the notion of romemut—the inherently spiritually elevated status of every human being, including himself or herself. “The beginning of the way of anyone who learns Mussar today needs to be: learn the elevatedness of a human. He must climb the ladder that leads to awareness of greatness.”

This teaching is specifically aimed at us who are living in this generation. Rabbi Wolbe wants us to understand that we have no solid basis for learning Mussar and working on ourselves if we have not internalized the profound truth of the incomparable greatness of the human being, and that that picture applies to each of us. Only once that knowledge and awareness has become a permanently installed backdrop to all we do, think, and feel are we then prepared to do our inner work. That background knowledge assures that when we become aware that we could be more generous, or that we are not as kind as we fancied ourselves to be, or that we have a tendency to be lazy, we are not going to be devastated. Recognition of our imperfections figures against a general awareness that we are equipped with so many resources, we are so infused with virtues, and we have so many capabilities. That gives us the conviction that we have the foundation from which to deal with our spiritual curriculum, as it becomes revealed to us.

Rav Wolbe is steering us away from any tendency to slip toward distress or despair when we discover our imperfections. The chapter following the one in which he gives the teaching on romemut is called “Without sadness!” Starting Mussar learning by developing a firm appreciation for the lofty nature of a human being, including ourselves, deflects from any possibility of sadness or despair, he writes. In fact, it leads us in the opposite direction: it leads to joy.

It may seem incomprehensible, maybe even perverse, to imagine someone feeling joy when he or she comes face to face with the reality of his or her own arrogance, or stinginess, or worry. But I have known that feeling. The revelation of my own shortcomings is not a symptom of failure, but rather of victory. Those deficiencies were there in me all along, regardless of whether or not I was aware of them. Now I have become aware, and that is a far preferable situation to being unaware. I feel joy because that element of my reality is no longer unconscious. Only once I am aware of the real nature of who I am can I bring into play all the remarkable and elevated qualities that we human beings possess (me among them), to put them to work as aids to guiding my growth. That is a real cause for joy, because knowing where I have fallen short gives me the knowledge I need to take a journey of growth. And now I can.