Thursday, June 25, 2009

Chukas - Cows, calves, and oxen

What is the fundamental understanding of the Red Cow? What is the concept of the cow in relationship to the Golden Calf? What is the significance of the calf as opposed to the cow and the ox? Why is Yosef represented by the ox? What is the significance of the egla arufa and what is it's importance in the story of Yosef and Yaakov? Why did only Moshe understand the depth of the mitzvah of the Parah Adumah? How does this connect to Moshiach ben Yosef?

Find out in this week's parsha podcast

This is an episode that I think is one of my best. It runs 19:56, but is well worth the time IMHO.

JM show

This is a short Jewish Music show I put together. It features some tracks from Yehuda David's Rockiah and Shmaya Silverman's Tefilatenu, both available on Itunes, and two short previews from the upcoming album I am working on, called Sheves Chaverim, sequel to Sheves Achim.

Click here. You can right click and choose download to get it onto your computer.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Moshiach, Moshiach, Moshiach

Recently, I have been listening to an unbelievable series of Hashkafa tapes from Rav Shimon Kessin. There are some wonderful ideas that I wanted to share that pertain to Moshiach.

We all know that we are waiting for Moshiach, but what is this business of two Moshiachs? We have Moshiach ben Yosef and Moshiach ben Dovid, but why do we need two? Isn't one enough?

So we need to understand that it all goes back to the sin of Adam Harishon. If Adam Harishon would not have sinned, he would have been Moshiach himself. The way Rav Kessin explains it is that the job of Moshiach is to bring down a certain transcendent level of the soul, which is called the Yechida, and thereby attain a tremendous revelation of the Divine. This was what Adam would have accomplished had he kept his mitzvah. This would have brought about what we call a תיקון החסרון - a rectification of his lack. He would have entered straight into Olam Haba by doing this.

Another way of saying this would be that Adam was at a level of 0. By keeping the mitzvah, he would have gotten to the level of 1. By transgressing, however, he entered the level of -1. This means that he created the necessity for a new תיקון, which was the rectification of the damage he had caused.

So now we have two rectifications that are neccessary after Adam's sin - תיקון החסרון - rectifying the lack (or going from zero to one) as well as תיקון הקלקול - rectifying the damage done by the sin (or going from -1 to 0).

These are the two jobs of the two Moshiachs. Moshiach ben Yosef's job is fix the damage done by the sin, to bring the world back to its state before Adam Harishon's sin. Moshiach ben Dovid's job is to complete the rectification of the lack that existed previous to Adam Harishon's sin. Both of the Moshiachs do this by bringing down the level of Yechida - the transcendent level of the soul.

Both of the Moshiachs are not only specific people, but also represent the process by which the תיקון comes about. This is what is meant when we say that each generation has its Moshiach - each generation has a person who is outstanding in the process of the תיקון that is required, and helps to move the Jewish people in that direction. Thus we find that the students of the Gra revealed that the Gra was Moshiach ben Yosef of his generation. The Gra accomplished this task by being involved in the mysteries of the Torah to a great extent, as well as encouraging his students to begin a return to Israel, which they accomplished when they arrived here in Israel in 1808. They were extremely instrumental in establishing and sustaining the Yishuv of the areas around the old city of Jerusalem. We also find that the Ari Hakadosh was the Moshiach ben Yosef of his generation, thus we find him revealing secrets of the Torah that had never been revealed before.

Another point that I found was interesting was that we find that Moshiach ben Yosef can be from any tribe. In fact, Moshe Rabbeinu himself would have been Moshiach ben Yosef in his generation if the Jewish people had not sinned with the Golden Calf. Yet he was from the tribe of Levi. We also find that Shaul Hamelech would have been MBY of his generation had he not sinned by allowing Agag to live, and again he was not from Yosef, but rather from Binyamin. Moshiach ben Dovid, on the other hand, must come from the physical lineage of Dovid (and Yehuda).

Rav Kessin explains that Moshiach ben Yosef's role is the role of the leader of the Jewish people. This is something that can be fulfilled by anyone. The role of Moshiach ben Dovid, however, is that of a king, and a king must have royal blood.

The Damesek Eliezer gives a further explanation of this, and says that the concept of Moshiach ben Yosef represents the male aspect, as it corresponds to the Sefirah of Yesod. Moshiach ben Dovid, on the other hand, corresponds to Malchus, the female aspect. Thus, the male aspect always represents the infinite potential which is not contained, somewhat like water without something to hold it. Thus Moshiach ben Yosef can come from any tribe. Moshiach ben Dovid, however, is the female aspect, which is definition and constriction, and thus he must be from a specific tribe.

So now, when we talk about the Moshiach that we are waiting for, we need to realize that we are first waiting for Moshiach ben Yosef, whose job is to return us to the state of Adam Harishon before the sin. His job involves revealing the secrets of the Torah, as well as bringing the Jewish people back to Israel and rebuilding the physical Temple. As we said, his job is not reserved for himself exclusively, bat rather it is also an ongoing process, which is clearly taking place as we speak. It seems that the man himself will come and complete the process, thus returning us to a stage of complete revelation of Hashem's presence and a recognition of His guiding Hand throughout history. He raises us out of the קלקול created by Adam and returns us back to the stage before the sin. Then, Moshiach ben Dovid takes over, to complete the process of the תיקון החסרון - rectification of what we lack, or going from zero to one. This is represented by the fact that he brings the Shechina into the Temple that MBY has built.

It is important to note that Moshiach Ben Dovid's job is also a process that takes place throughout history. What this means is that when the times of Moshiach actually occur, we will actually be on a higher plane that Adam was before the sin. This is because before Adama sinned, he did not rectify any of the חסרון. Throughout history, the two processes of Moshiach ben Yosef and Moshiach ben Dovid have been occuring simultaneously, thus there has been a rectification of both the destruction he caused as well as a movement upward at the same time. This means that we will be on a higher level then Adam when Moshiach comes.

This explains a perpelexing question. If Adam Harishon could sin in the higher state, what is to say that we won't sin like Adam did at that time, and reintroduce the destruction? Isn't it possible that Moshiach will come and we will mess up again?

The answer is that, as we said, since Moshiach has taken so long to come, and we are nearing the year 6000, the amount of rectification that is left is very small. Most of it has been done. Thus, when we return to his state, the yetzer hara will be so small that it will be guaranteed that we will never return to the state we are in now, but rather the transformation will be complete and permanent.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

North Korea - athletics vs bombs

I just can't get over the contrast between the jpost headline and CNN.

Jpost: N. Korea may fire missile at Hawaii

CNN: North Korea qualifies for 2010 World Cup

If it weren't so serious, it would almost be funny.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Korach - Equality vs. Self esteem

Why did Korach talk of equality, but Moshe responds with a claim that he is just coveting the Kehuna? Why did the 250 people follow Korach if their gain would be minimal, as was evident from the story of Oan ben Peles? Why did Moshe choose the Ketores as the test, and why did it later save the Jewish people? Why did Hashem twice say he would destroy the Jewish people, and in the first instance it was not immediate, as opposed to the second when it was?

Find out in this week's Parsha Podcast.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Making sense of world events

I am going to do something out of character with this post, and I accede that it represents a failing in myself. My better judgment tells me to never make predictions, and to generally try to avoid reading the news and hype that we, the Moshiach blogosphere, create for ourselves. For better or for worse, I part here from better judgment.

With that introduction, naturally you the reader may take what I am about to say with a grain of salt. I think that would indeed be well-advised.

A number of thoughts have been parading around my mind over the last bit of time. I watched with interest as the Israeli media coverage on North Korea stood in stark contrast with the American media coverage. Here we had the Israeli media reporting North Korea testing a second missile and threatening to "attack offensively without mercy" but not a word of this was mentioned in the American media. This seemed odd to me. It also was strange that not one blog that I have read seems to have made note of it. When there finally was mention made of the sanctions being prepared, nothing was even said of the North's response. Then immediately afterward, North Korea has completely disappeared from the news. Perhaps just for the moment.

The parade continues with thoughts about Tamuz and Av coming. I came across an interesting piece of Zohar on Shavuos that was in my machzor, and it stated that the months of Nissan and Iyar, as well as Sivan until Shavuos, were given to the Jewish People. The months of Tamuz and Av, however, were given to Esav. This fact hit me with a certain weight when I considered that both last year on Rosh Chodesh Av, as well as this year on Rosh Chodesh Av, a certain event transpires - a solar eclipse. The solar eclipse, as we know from the Gemara in Succah, represents a negative sign for the nations of the world. Is it a coincidence that it occurs in the very months that represent the power of Esav?

Following last year's eclipse, the world entered a steady economic decline. Edom elected a leader who represents an unprecendented shift from truth to falsehood. I don't think it is necessary to continue the litany.

Rosh Chodesh Tamuz also pranced across my mind's stage, as I realized that if the sin of the spies happened on Tisha B'av, they left forty days earlier, on Rosh Chodesh Tamuz, to begin their act of spying. As I said in the Parsha Podcast, the forty days represent a development of something that was conceived.

While Tisha B'av represents for us the loss of the light of Moshiach in the Midbar, it is also called the day that Moshiach is born. Hashem's way is to take the evil itself and use it for His very purpose. He is like the Master Chess Player, who knows how to use every move of His opponent for His own benefit. Our Chazal tell us that Tisha B'av will be a holiday when Moshiach comes. In a similar vein, Esav's grandchild, Amalek, who lives to destroy the Jewish people, is actually used as an instrument by Hashem to bring about the ultimate redemption, and the ultimate glory of His true chosen nation.

It is possible that Tisha B'av should have been the day when the Jewish people began their ascent to the Holy Land. This was the day the spies would have returned with the information to guide the people along the paths of Eretz Yisrael. It would have represented the culmination of the Exodus in this respect. When the opportunity was lost, the day still retained that potential, and it would indeed one day take on that greatest joy.

When Rebbe Akiva saw the Har Habayis lying in utter desolation, he laughed. He knew that in its destruction lay the potential for its ultimate deliverance. He was Moshiach ben Yosef - who is 'codenamed' the איש צמח - the man who sprouts. In fact whenever we talk of the צמח דוד, it is a veiled reference to him. Rebbe Akiva knew the secret - he knew the joke. The destruction itself is the construction - סתירת זקנים בנין. The redemption sprouts from the destruction.

Is it any clearer than the Holocaust? Of course, we can not fathom the depths of this devastating event, but isn't it obvious that the destruction there directly led to a tremendous growth for our people in the the Holy Land?

The Zohar quoted earlier shows that there is a certain power that Esav has in the months of Tamuz and Av. This power was only given to him by Hashem in order to ultimately be handed back to the Jewish people when they return to their former glory. This power was wielded to destroy the second Beis Hamikdash, but that very destruction was the seed for Esav's ultimate destruction. Tamuz and Av are only temporarily given to him. They are also the instrument for Esav's downfall.

It is no coincidence that the solar eclipses have fallen in Av. As the power is drawn out of Esav and returned to the Jewish people, it becomes increasingly clear that there is a fall that is taking place in the Western world.

According to Rav Shimon Kessin, the sparks of Holiness have been almost completely removed from Edom, and we are seeing the final stages as they are completely transferred back to us, and the dawn of the era of Moshiach commences. While this is exciting, it also entails difficult times. Just as a woman giving birth undergoes birth trauma, our Chazal say that there is a birthing process of Moshiach that can entail great difficulty.

I would again return to a previous theme, which is that Tisha B'av represents a time of rising from the dust, of sprouting from the ashes. The potential for this is laid, however, on Rosh Chodesh Tamuz. Then, the seed of redemption is planted. But we only reep what we sow - whatever happens on Tisha B'av reveals what was planted previously.

We can use this time for introspection. Our sages tell us that whoever mourns the destruction of Jerusalem merits to see its rebuilding. I visited the Kotel today, and I had not been there since Pesach, so I tore my shirt and felt the sadness of the destruction wash over me. I went down to daven, and as I stepped back from the Kotel, I watched admiringly as some non-observant Jews placed tefillin on their arms and heads. There were a number of people interested, more than the few guys stationed to help could handle, so I gave a hand and explained to a young man from Connecticut a little bit of the significance of the Tefillin. The love of God for His people. Our love for Him. We rap ourselves in that love, and He does too. I walked away feeling really nice.

I can't help but think how the Kotel, the ultimate symbol of our destruction, somehow draws these Jews, who literally know nothing, and are also the symbol of our destruction. Yet there are dedicated people who will give a spark of light to their lost brethren, helping them to strap on a mitzvah, make a little connection to Hashem. Right there at the very site of our greatest devastation, the seeds are being planted for a new light to shine on Tzion. May it be soon. Amen.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Depth of the number forty

What is the deeper significance of the spies exploring Israel for forty days? Why was Moshe on Har Sinai for forty days? Why were the Jewish people punished with forty years - a year for each day?

Uncover the great depth hidden in this concept in this week's Parsha Podcast.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Understanding the Erev Rav

In this week's Parsha Podcast, we discuss the story of the מתאוננים - the complainers. The questions are many. Why is the Erev Rav always starting the trouble? Why do they complain about the Mon? What is the significance of the crying of the Jewish people? Why is there an angry response by both Hashem and Moshe? Why does this result in seventy elders receiving prophecy? Why do Eldad and Medad receive their prophecy now? Why does their prophecy specifically relate to Moshe dying and Yehoshua leading the Jewish people into Egypt?

Find out in this week's Parsha Podcast.

Also, listen to the one minute addendum (one question I forgot to answer until after).

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

On our own

On a short walk in Ramat Bet Shemesh, I had a most moving thought.

As the Jewish people once again seems to find itself in a corner, with no one to rely on but Hashem, there is a striking parallel to another point in history that presaged a potential Geulah. This was actually in the time of Avraham Avinu. Avraham was also referred to as an עברי - what we translate as 'Hebrew,' but what actually means 'one who is on the side.' He was called this because while the entire world was on the side of evil, clamoring to create a tower to rebel against Hashem, Avraham was on the side of Good, constantly striving to bring Hashem's kindness into the world through his benevolent acts of unconditional kindness. He stood on one side - the עברי - while the whole world stood on the other. This pure altruistic mode of living brought Hashem to create a ברית with Avraham that meant that he would take over the purpose of mankind - the תיקון עולם - rectification of the world - that meant his children would need to remove the darkness that had taken over mankind. This meant that Avraham's children would enter into the place where that darkness was centered - Mitzrayim. There his children would face an opportunity to bring the redemption by staying true to the ways of their forefathers through their devotion to Hashem. When they would fail in that devotion, they would experience the hardships of slavery that also would help them take back the Holiness that was being leeched by the dark forces of Egypt. When they finally had succeeded, there was a redemption that brought them to Har Sinai, where they returned to the state of Adam Harishon, attaining the light of Moshiach on Shavuos. The dream was shortlived, however, when the Jews sinned with the Golden Calf and lost that level of perfection.

Just as it was with Avraham, who stood on one side while all the world stood on the other, in their perverse evil and self-centeredness, so it is now. We are beginning to see that there is no one to rely upon but Hashem. While the American president seems to be a man who threatens our very existence here in Israel, he is clearly the messenger of Hashem. We are being placed into a predicament where we are truly alone. This situation is the opportunity for a great attainment of trust and reliance upon Hashem. As long as we feel that others are on our side, we have a sense of self-confidence. When the world comes down upon us from every direction, demanding our annihilation, we are shocked into a realization of the true reality.

We are on one side. Everyone else is on the other. This is the precursor for Moshiach.

This presents us with a test and a great opportunity, no matter where we are. Hashem is making it obvious that the leader of America has no qualms with creating a situation that is tantamount to Israel's destruction. We look up from our morning paper and we say, "Is this real?" The answer is that it is. And it is really the chance for every Jew to identify with his brother's pain no matter where he may be. Every Jew can look up from his paper and say, "This is unjust! The country of Israel and the Jewish people will not survive with these terms and conditions. We must stand up for what is right." This statement will attach every Jew to each other - creating a web that binds us to one another. Just as the Geulah of Purim came with an unnatural and illogical call for our destruction and caused the Jewish people to reunite as one, we are now being given the opportunity to do this once again.

During the Holocaust, there was a similar opportunity for the Jewish people to look at the plight of their brethren in Europe and to stand up for their cause. At that time, there was a failure to do so, perhaps because of disbelief, or perhaps because of apathy. An opportunity for unity and complete Geulah was lost then. It seems that we are about to be faced with a similar chance. This opportunity must not be missed. We must strengthen each other and our commitment to our brethren no matter where we may be. We must feel the pain of our brothers and we must stand up with dignity, showing our solidarity in the face of the world's disdain. Our blood must boil from the unfairness to which our people are being subjected. We must not stand idly by.

Chazal tell us that אתם קרויים אדם - the Jewish people are called Adam. This means that we have a chance to join together as one in order to bring Hashem's Shechinah into the world and to reflect Hashem's light to all the nations. We can only do this when we behave as we did at Har Sinai. At that time, we stood as one - כאיש אחד בלב אחד - as one man with one heart. We then reached the level of Adam Harishon before the sin - the level of Moshiach. We are about to face another shot at it. May Hashem help us, for the sake of His Shechinah, and for the sake of the honor of His beloved nation.