Thursday, July 29, 2010

Ekev - Two types of relationship

What are the two different types of relationship with Hashem that the Jews had in the wilderness? What is Moshe's advice for each? How does this play itself out to this day?

Find out in this week's Parsha Podcast.

(Running time: 16:21)

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Watching movies

Rabbi Goldwag- I listen to many of your podcasts and find them insightful. I have a hashkafa question that i was wondering if you can answer for me. I know that watching movies that are inappropriate is bad - espescially for the neshama. But what about movies that are not inappropriate... I know that there are people who stay away from movies altogether and I was wondering why that is...? I'm not sure what's wrong with watching movies if it's just something that will give you a good laugh. It's a level I would like to strive for but I won't be able to get there if I don't understand what the problem is with it.

I appreciate your thoughtful question. I want to preface my thoughts by saying that it is extremely hard for me to give a good personal answer because the answer really should be tailored to the person asking, and I don't know you. Despite that, I will try to give you something to think about, and you can apply the ideas on your own, at your pace.

The power of movies and media is extremely strong, as a person is a combination of spiritual and physical forces. The most active force in our lives is our deep subconscious self, though most people are not consciously aware of this. When we say something like, "I wish I could get myself to do that," we are really acknowledging that although consciously we understand it is something we should do, our deep subconscious, which is the root of our actions, is not interested in doing it. Part of the reason that stories and music are so powerful is because they both speak very deeply to our subconscious awareness. That is why reading a book like "One small word: Amen" is extremely powerful. The message underlying all the stories is the importance of Amen. As we read the stories, that message is repeated over and over, and enters deep into our minds. The fact that the message is being conveyed in a story also means that our guard is down - our subconscious has very limited resistance to instruction that is indirect. This is why reading a book like that is so powerful. I remember hearing of a certain young woman who was extremely modern, but nevertheless was exceedingly careful about saying her brachos out loud, most likely as a result of reading a book like this, or having imbibed the importance of brachos from some other powerful source.

A movie has the same power over our subconscious. Our guard is down and we are extremely impressionable. There are many subtle messages that are conveyed in a movie, even if it is 'kosher,' that are far from the hashkafa of the Torah. It is natural for us to think that we will not be adversely affected by watching a show that contains interactions and jokes that are antithetical to the Torah, because we honestly believe that we are greater than that. The truth is that on the conscious level, we are indeed greater than that. However, the subtlety of the message and the fact that our guard is down means that we will unconsciously begin to see the world through the prism of the story we are watching. Human beings learn the most through mimicry. Children as young as one year old learn the arts of human interaction completely through imitation. People of every age are no different. What we see is what we become. This is why our chachamim have told us that we should surround ourselves with people who are moral and sensitive to the Torah, and to live in a place where Torah is the guiding light of life. If you have ever seen the contrast between religious communities in Israel as opposed to their counterparts in America, you can see the subconscious effects of the surrounding culture, despite its conscious rejection.

The bottom line is that the things that we see, the stories we experience, the things we laugh at, and the people we surround ourselves with have a powerful impact on the deepest levels of our consciousness. These levels of consciousness are the very parts of ourselves that we were placed on this Earth to rectify. If we fill our lives with Torah experiences and Torah surroundings, we can raise our lowest selves to the highest heights. If we plant seeds of decadence in our mind by filling it with stories and art forms that are antithetical to Torah, we will dull our spiritual sensitivities, drawing ourselves in a downward direction, instead of drawing ourselves up. We need to daven for Hashem to help us and guide us to see and hear things that are productive and aid us in spiritual growth. We need to be consciously aware of what has a positive effect on this deep level and what does not.

If one honestly seeks the truth, as I see you do, Hashem will help find it.

All the best,
Ari Goldwag

Friday, July 23, 2010

Va'eschanan - Hashem and Israel's love

What is the foundation of Hashem's love for the Jewish people? What does the Torah mean when it says that the Jews are few/small? Why does the Torah specifically speak of this love in contrast to his relationship with the nations of the world? What is the secret of the Jewish people's continued success? What is the cause of downfall of the nations of the world?

Find out in this week's Parsha podcast.

(Running time 23:24)

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Thoughts on Tisha B'av

A few years ago on Tisha B'av, a member of my shul spoke, Mr. Stimler z'l. He was a holocaust survivor, married to a holocaust survivor. I distinctly remember the first time I met him, when he made a 'tikun' after davening. Usually there is a name to mention when you say your brachos. The paper next to the snacks and drinks listed five names; the names of his mother and sisters who were killed on one day in the town where he grew up. When he spoke that Tisha B'av, he went through his history and his experiences during war times. I believe it was in response to someone's question that he described the feeling people had before the war. There was a sense that everything would be fine, and that the storm clouds would pass. That belief couldn't have been more naive.

I don't know if the question was asked at the time, but it definitely began to whirl around in my own mind over the next few months. Here in Israel, there is a sense that everything will be fine, and that the storm clouds will pass. It seemed to be that very same belief that the Jews of Europe so foolishly held. Was it ludicrous and dangerous to keep my family in a country that was explicitly threatened with another holocaust?

On a trip to America, I asked this question to a number of Rabbis who I greatly respect. One of those I asked was my Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Yechiel Perr. His response puzzled me. He asked me what my friends think. I didn't know. When I came back to Israel, I started asking around, and the response I got was that we are protected here in Eretz Yisrael; Hashem is watching out for us here.

I was uneasy with what I felt was a somewhat tenuous resolution to my question, but I convinced myself that this feeling of safety wasn't just based on naivete, rather it was founded in fact. Since the Jewish people have returned here to the land of Israel and stood up as a nation, we have experienced miracle after miracle that have clearly shown Hashem's protecting hand. This has been our continuous experience throughout the decades since World War II. To believe that He would protect us and help us so openly, only to forget about us in the end, did not seem likely.

Recently, through the vehicle of my Parsha Podcast, I became deeply aware of a much more beautiful and satisfying answer to my question.

In this past week's Parsha, Moshe reviewed how the Jewish people had sinned with the negative report of the land of Israel, distrusting that Hashem would be in their midst, and instead choosing to believe that Hashem's hatred led Him to take them out of Egypt, to destroy them at the hand of the Emorites of Canaan. This feeling was rooted in the Jewish people's sense of inadequacy. They felt unworthy of Hashem's presence, and felt that it was a fleeting moment of grace, one that could easily be lost at a moment's notice. This lack of faith in their own worthiness led them to send the spies to see if they could take the land of Israel on their own, in a natural manner. The negative report of the spies reinforced their low self-esteem, and they began to believe that not only were they unworthy of Hashem's Divine assistance, but just the contrary, they were the subject of Divine hatred, heaven forbid.

This lack of self confidence led Hashem to indeed recognize that they were not yet ready to enter the land, for they could not be a vehicle for Hashem's Presence if they indeed felt unworthy. Their low self-esteem started a cycle ending with the realization of their very fear.

Hashem accentuated this when He said, "וְטַפְּכֶם אֲשֶׁר אֲמַרְתֶּם לָבַז יִהְיֶה וּבְנֵיכֶם אֲשֶׁר לֹא יָדְעוּ הַיּוֹם טוֹב וָרָע הֵמָּה יָבֹאוּ שָׁמָּה וְלָהֶם אֶתְּנֶנָּה וְהֵם יִירָשושׁוּהָ." - "Your children who you said would be plundered, your children who do not yet know Good from Evil, they will come there, to them will I give it, and they will inherit it."

The midrash points out that there are three different statements here in regards to the Jewish people getting the land of Israel. The first is that "they will come there." The second is that "to them I will give it." The third is that "they will inherit it." The midrash explains that each of these three correspond to three different points in history. The statement that "they will come there" corresponds to the first time the Jewish people entered Israel with Yehoshua. The statement that "to them I will give it" corresponds to the return of the Jewish people to Israel with Ezra, after the seventy year Babylonian exile. The last statement, that "they will inherit it" refers to the end of days, when the Jewish people will finally return, once and for all, after the long exile we now experience.

What is the difference between the first time, when the Jewish people only "entered the land," as opposed to the third time, when they will "inherit the land?" The difference is that the Jewish people at that time had not yet developed a true sense that Hashem was with them, and that Hashem was protecting them. They could not truly inherit the land because they did not yet believe in themselves enough for Hashem to indeed bring them the supernatural success that was necessary to conquer the spiritual plane of the land of Israel. This would only be possible after the Jewish people had gone through the most difficult and grueling process of intense exile, difficulty after difficulty, pogrom after pogrom, crusade after crusade, inquisition after inquisition. These difficulties are meted out upon the Jewish people because of the very fact that we represent Hashem in the world, and we represent the light of truth and good. The more we have suffered for Hashem, the more we could begin to believe that we truly deserve His Presence to indeed dwell in our midst.

I realized that this is what we are witnessing today. The Jewish people stands here on the holy soil of the land of Israel, ready to metaphorically walk into the land of Israel, not just in a physical sense, but in a spiritual and Messianic sense. This is coupled with the fact that we truly believe that Hashem will protect us from a physical holocaust. This is in stark contrast to the Jewish people who stood poised to enter the land 3300 years ago. They did not yet believe in themselves, nor in their connection to Hashem, and they therefore could not 'inherit the land.' They could only 'enter the land.' Through the blood and tears of an exile that has seemed like it would never end, the Jewish people today senses that Hashem will be in its midst and protect it from harm, come what may.

May we indeed be the generation that finally merits to 'inherit the land.'

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Devarim - Tisha B'av and the spies

What was the story of the spies from the perspective of the Jewish people? How could the Jewish people say that Hashem 'hated' them if He had shown them so many miracles and was constantly providing for them? Why does Hashem seem to confirm their fears and remove His presence from them? Why does the crying of Tisha B'av necessitate a crying for generations? Why do we go through a litany of seeming complaints on Tisha B'av? What are we supposed to be thinking and feeling on Tisha B'av? Why is Tisha B'av called a 'moed' - a meeting time with Hashem?

Find out in this week's Parsha Podcast.

(Running time: 20:30)

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Matos-Masei - The Midyan war

Why is the war with Midyan prefaced with the laws of vows? Why is Moshe told that he will die immediately after this war? Why does Pinchas lead them in battle, and not Yehoshua? Why did Pinchos bring back so many Midianites and why did Moshe adamantly demand their death? Why does the Torah give us such a detailed description of the spoils in this war? What is the significance of the fact that all of the spoils were passed through either fire or water?

Find out in this week's Parsha Podcast.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Pinchas - The Pinchas-Eliyahu connection

Why does Eliyahu/Pinchas appear and disappear throughout history? Why is Eliyahu involved in giving over the secrets of the Torah through all generations? What is the deeper message of the genealogy of the daughters of Tzelafchad that is recorded all the way back to Yosef? What is the deeper connection of this idea to the story of Eliyahu/Pinchas?

Find out in this week's Parsha Podcast.