Thursday, June 27, 2013

Pinchas - Leadership of Yosef and Levi

What is the connection between Pinchos, inheriting the land, the daughters of Tzlafchad, and the appointment of Yehoshua? Why do the Jewish people face a test in the area of licentious relations as they are entering Israel? Why is the leadership in the midbar solely from the tribe of Levi, and entering Israel it is balanced between the tribes of Levi and Yosef? How does the tzaddik guide people to their portion in the land, as well as in their purpose in the world? What is the difference between the leadership of Levi and Yosef?

Find out in this week's parsha podcast.

Running time: 22:45

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

17th of Tammuz and Yosef

The 17th of Tammuz is known as the day of the breaking of the luchos (tablets), which occurred in the year 2448. It was a day that should have been the greatest celebration - the completion of the pact between Hashem and the Jewish people! Instead, it became a day of sadness throughout history, that represented the loss of our relationship with Hashem. And yet, it does represent the loss in a direct way - for we could still have come back into that relationship - through the building of the Mishkan (tabernacle), through the teshuva and prayers of the entire Jewish people.

But a year and three months later, in 2449, we lost that as well, on the day of Tisha B'av. The ninth of Av, as well, should have been a day of great celebration. We were to receive news about the beautiful land of Israel that we were about to begin to conquer. Instead of it being a day of elation, it became a day of sadness through the ill report of the spies.

It is remarkable that Tammuz is the month of Yosef's birth. Furthermore, Av is a month that Yosef is active in (as per the Maharsha in Sanhedrin 12A). How are we to understand this in light of the negative events that occurred in this month?

The essence of Yosef (and Moshiach ben Yosef, by extension) is his hidden nature. This manifests in a number of ways. The first way is that he experiences tremendous difficulties and challenges. These mask the underlying theme of his life which is growth through the challenges. That which on the surface seems like death and destruction, is shown to actually be the source of his life. His great leadership is born as a result of his great difficulties.

Tammuz and Av are the months when the sun holds its greatest sway. The days are long, and the heat is at its peak of the year. Esav and the powers of evil are represented by the sun, and thus, we can see that the very nature of reality shows that Esav has power in these months. As Rashi says on the verses that describe the birth of Yosef, Yosef is the force which balances out the evil of Esav, which was why Yakov felt he could return to where Esav was once Yosef was born. Thus, the counter-force for Esav comes into the world at the very time when Esav's power is ascendent.

Returning for a moment to the 17th of Tammuz, it was the day that the luchos were broken, but the event that was the antecedent of that was the creation of the Golden Calf. It is remarkable that Yosef is very much connected to the concept of the calf. We find that Yosef is referred to as an ox (בכור שורו הדר לו) - he is the firstborn ox. This is related to one of the four faces of the ofanim, which was the ox, after which the Jewish people modeled the Golden Calf. The question is, What is the meaning of this connection between Yosef and the Golden Calf?

There is also a strong connection between the Golden Calf and the Red Heifer. Both red and gold represent the concept of gevurah, as does the concept of the calf, or the heifer (cow). The Red Heifer is meant to atone in some way for the sin of the Golden Calf (as per Rashi). It is the antidote for the spiritual malaise that is brought about through coming into contact with the dead. Before the sin of the Golden Calf, the Jewish people had returned to the state of Adam Harishon before the sin, and thus they would have lived forever. Through the sin of the Golden Calf, death returned to the world, and thus the Red Heifer would be necessary to purify from the contamination of the dead.

Esav is an aspect of the Golden Calf - the forces of evil that bring death into the world. On a certain level, this is literal, as we find that Esav was the one who had transgressed the three cardinal sins, one of which is murder. Yosef can thus be described as an aspect of the Red Heifer - who comes as a counter-force for the death that is brought into the world through his spiritual opposite, Esav.

Most interestingly, Yosef functions in the spiritual facet of gevurah, which, as we said, is represented by the color red and the concept of the cow. This means that Yosef must use the very power of gevurah (literally - strength) - which is the tool of the side of evil - against the forces of evil. Whereas Esav and his spiritual counterparts make use of strength to destroy and bring about death, Yosef uses his strength to control his desires, and to eradicate those very forces of destruction.

On a deeper level, the concept of gevurah is about holding oneself back. This trait is what Yosef needed to use when he wanted to reveal himself to his brothers, but the time was not yet right. He also used this trait in order to forgive his brothers - by recognizing and focusing on the fact that Hashem was the One who had guided his life throughout the dark times, he was able to hold back his negative feelings for his brothers, and thereby forgive them.

In a similar way, there is a withholding of relationship that occurs on the 17th of Tammuz, and subsequently on the 9th of Av. This seeming loss of relationship is analogous to Yosef's interaction with his brothers before he reveals himself. He deals with them in a tough manner, and they perceive him as a despotic Egyptian ruler whose behavior is incomprehensible. Paralleling this, we experience our relationship with Hashem at this time as one of distance, loss and destruction. Hashem hides His face of kindness and love from us, and we are to blame! We built this idol ourselves! We brought death back into the world and we chose impatience over patience, death over life. It seems that surely Hashem is angry with us and will never forgive us!

And just as Yosef hid himself in order to accomplish a deeper resolution of the brothers' previous sin, Hashem also, lehavdil, hides Himself in order to give us an opportunity to accomplish a deeper resolution of our sin. For we have a chance to prove our fidelity to God even here in the darkest depths of distance from Him.

And just as Yosef must prove himself in the darkest depths of distance, so we are to do the same, and learn from the example that Yosef set.

And Yosef is is born into this time of darkness, which paradoxically seems like light. For the sun shines the strongest, and it beats the hottest during these summer months. Is this darkness? And the answer is, Yes! The sun represents the forces of evil, which eclipse the light of the soul, the light of Hashem. This time is a time in which Hashem's light is blocked, and the forces of physicality are strongest. And here Yosef is born, and Yosef works behind the scenes, facing the darkness head on. Teaching us how we can do the same.

It is here at this time that we are aware of Yosef working behind the scenes, ever so subtly, ever so discreetly. And we can discern this work as it develops through the process of the sod ha'ibbur, as it gives birth nine months later to the twin months of Adar - the double portion of Yosef as the firstborn ox. This is the secret process that brings about forward movement in the advent of the age of Moshiach, may it come speedily in our days.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Balak - Forces and Counter-forces

Why is Balak so bent on destroying the Jewish people? Why does his desire for their destruction not wane despite the miracles Hashem performs on their behalf? Why does Hashem give power to those who will wield it for such evil? What is the depth of the nature of Amalek in contrast to the people of Israel?

Find out in this week's parsha podcast.

Running time: 22:03

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Yosef breaking the illusion

The amazing power of the sitra achra - the other side - is to bring us to believe that we need something that we do not; to have an experience of lack, to feel broken, when in reality we are whole. This is followed by the false belief that we can become whole through whatever it is that the sitra achra wants us to be drawn into. Walking into that illusion brings pain and a deeper sense of lack. We can keep grabbing at what looks like that which will fill the gap.

But it does not work.

Because the gap isn't real.

Yosef hatzadik recognizes the illusion. Potiphar's wife proves to him that they are destined to be together, to share progeny. She has every way of showing Yosef that they are meant for each other.

But Yosef just responds simply with the truth. How could I do such a thing? My master trusts me with his house, with everything in it. And you are his. This would be a sin to God.

It's really an illusion.

And through Yosef's challenge to the side of evil, his staunch integrity to what is truly real, he finds himself deeper in the bowels of evil - in the depths of the prison of Egypt. He resides with those that even the decadent Egyptians acknowledge as decadent! It seems that his commitment to truth has earned him nothing but more lies!

But there he stays for twelve years, with only the hope that was given him by a dream he had so many years before. A glimmer of the reality of the veracity of his moral and spiritual leadership. And he maintains his love and fidelity toward God, Whose name is constantly on his tongue.

And ultimately, this commitment to the truth paves the way for his salvation, and the salvation of Egypt and the entire world at the time... And the crowning achievement is his leadership for the Jewish people, who join him there, through the twists and turns of the path Hashem would have them walk.

Moshiach ben Yosef's job is no different than that of his forbear Yosef. He comes into a world that is morally and spiritually decadent, to shine the light of integrity and honor for God's name. He teaches love and truth. And remarkably, he is the one who brings a new world of prosperity into existence. Just as Yosef channeled the money of the world into the coffers of Egypt, which were under his sole control, so too, Moshiach ben Yosef will teach us how to use the wealth that is becoming more and more apparent in the world in its proper way.

We can see the wealth in Israel - Tzion - which is the gematria of Yosef. Whatever happens to Yosef happens to Tzion. We need but watch the evolution of Israel to see what is going on behind the scenes with Yosef. We can see the hatred of brothers raising a scepter of abuse and misunderstanding to mete out judgment on those who toil in their relationship with Hashem. "That which was, is that which shall be." The stories repeat themselves. The themes are the same, and even the characters in the stories are the same.

But the focus comes, and will come, from Moshiach ben Yosef. He has a dream that was dreamt so many years ago, for his dream is the same as Yosef himself. That dream is still waiting to be fulfilled. As we move through time, we get ever closer to the promised age of Moshiach. Hashem carries us through a process - for Yosef is about process; and process involves pain. We are to rise up from the ashes, from the bowels of the deepest, darkest spiritual depths. To find the light that was hidden away in the dream of a Yosef. That light inspires us even as we sit in darkness, and recognize that Hashem is our light.

Yosef's greatness is brought to the fore through the very challenges he faces. He is born in Tammuz, which is the beginning of the months of the summer, the months that Esav and the forces of evil that he represents have power. Yosef is that power that offsets the forces of evil, that ultimately destroys Amalek, who is the embodiment of that evil. And it is here, in Tammuz and Av - in the center of the destruction that was wrought by Esav, that Yosef finds himself. Still clinging to the dream. Watching the process unfold. Recognizing the light of God that begins to shine in the greatest darkness. Looking for love and forgiveness. Letting go of sadness and resentment. Looking past the differences and the hatred and the darkness. Seeing the light of God's goodness that is hidden within that which seems to be its opposite.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Chukas - Song of Salvation

What is the concept of the song of the well? Why are these songs always sung after some miraculous salvation? What is the song that will be aroused in the future? What is the concept of the 'one who knows how to rebuke?'

Find out in this week's parsha podcast.

Running Time: 21:20

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Yosef and the number five

In honor of Yosef's yahrtzeit today, I would like to share a recent email conversation I had about Yosef. The questions came from a fourth grade teacher, whose students asked the following:

Binyamin got 5 portions form Yosef of food and clothing.
Yosef took 5 brothers to meet Pharoah.
1/5 of the fields the mitzriyim had to give to pharoah.
All is initiated by Yosef.
Is there a connection between Yosef and the number 5?
why is it his favorite number?

To which I responded:

These three fives are all different. The first five is five times the amount each of the other brothers got. The second five is five out of twelve - 5/12. And the third five is one out of five, or 20%. So, to say there is a theme of five here may not be accurate.

Notwithstanding that, the first thing that comes to mind on this is that the 20% number - one fifth - is significant as follows. There are ten sefiros. The sefiros are split into two groups, the top three and the lower seven. Yosef and Dovid correspond to the last two (six and seven), which are Yesod (Tzaddik yesod olam - Yosef), and Malchus (Dovid). These two sefiros are the place where heaven and earth touch - they are Friday (six - Yosef) and Shabbos (seven - Dovid). These two represent the perfect balance between heaven and earth, where all of the spiritual influx are focused. If you take these two out of the whole series of sefiros, we are looking at 20%. This is who Yosef was - the tzaddik (yesod) who is in a position of kingship (malchus). He's got the balance and therefore is the conduit for all of the livelihood of the whole world. That balance is expressed in the 20% that he takes from the Egyptians - it is his due, as it corresponds to him.

It seems to me that the five out of twelve brothers are an expression of the concept of the number five, which is the gematria of the letter Heh. Heh is the female letter, and therefore expresses the aspect of physical weakness (as per the drasha of chazal that the extra Heh of 'yodchah' teaches that the tefillin are worn on the weaker hand - the left hand). These five were the weaker of the brothers, and Yosef wanted Pharaoh to see that his brothers were not to be taken and used.

The five times clothing refers to the five different things that Mordechai (from Binyomin) would wear when he was raised up at the end of the story of Purim. This is very interesting, because it also is the ascendency of the tzaddik to a position of rulership and power, much like Yosef; only this time it manifests in Binyomin's progeny, Mordechai and Esther. Mordechai is the Tzaddik (yesod - six), Esther is the queen (malchus - seven). Still, it is five times, which means that there is an aspect of multiplicity that is inherent in the character of the tzaddik. The tzaddik is the neshama kolleles - the soul that includes all of the Jewish people within him, so this could be hinted to in the fact that Binyomin/Mordechai got a multiplicity of garments. They are also called a 'change of garments' - because through the advent of Moshiach ben Yosef there is a changing from the old order, to the new. Garments are the result of the sin of Adam harishon. The changing of garments is brought about through the deeds of the tzaddik (MBY) and his leading the Jewish people - changing their garments from regular physical garments to garments of mitzvos (as per Rashi in Bereishis in reference to Adam being naked of commandments through his sin).

This five could also have to do with the five universes (Asiyah, Yetzirah, Beriyah, Atzilus and Adam Kadmon) which correspond to the five aspects of the name Yud Kei Vav Kei.

Needs more thought.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Korach - Aharon's Transcendent Peace

What is the fundamental attribute of Aharon? What is the fundamental attribute of Korach? What is the depth of the fact that God ratifies the path of Aharon?

Find out in this week's parsha podcast.

Running time: 19:44