Friday, December 31, 2010

Vaera: A Complicated Transition

In last week’s Parsha, Am Yisrael fully entered into Galus. As the generation of Yaakov Avinu, Yosef HaTzadik and all the tribes die out, the slavery turns up a notch and the oppression goes into full swing. Even after HaKadosh Baruch Hu selects Moshe Rabeinu to be the redeemer of the Jewish People and he goes forth to negotiate with Paroh, things go from terrible to horrific.

But this week things are totally different. God breaks all the rules. One decimating blow after another befall the Egyptian enslavers. Water turns to blood. Exploding frogs, wild beasts of all kinds, plague and nature bending fire/ice meteors tear Mitzrayim to shreds. How does this transition happen? Let’s explore.

Very often, the name of any given Parsha is determined by a unique word or phrase that appears in the first Passuk of that Parsha. There are exceptions, and this Parsha is one of them, being as the word Va’era only appears in the second Passuk. Our Parsha begins, like some others, with an introductory verse. The catch is that such an introduction appears nowhere else in the Torah.

(Note: When we say ‘Hashem’ we mean the four letter name of Yud-Kay-Vav-Kay which we hereby often refer to as Shem Havaya.)

VaYidber Elokim El Moshe VaYomer Eilav Ani Hashem .” – “And Elokim spoke to Moshe saying ‘I am Hashem’.” Only after this introduction does HaKadosh Baruch Hu begin giving Moshe Rabeinu the pep-talk that precedes his upcoming face-off with Paroh and the inspiration required to start the miraculous onslaught that’s about to begin.

We simply could ask why is such an introduction needed in the first place; but a further analysis of the verse begs for a much deeper explanation. On a cursory level there is a discrepancy in the terminology of the verse. The Passuk begins, ‘VaYidaber Elokim’ And God, via the title Elokim spoke. He spoke to Moshe, and He did so by, VaYomer Eilav ‘Ani Hashem’ - by saying to Moshe, I am Hashem, this time introducing Himself with Shem Havaya.

What happened here? We began the verse with Dibur - speaking, and with the name of Elokim; then we move into Amirah - saying, with the name of Shem HaVaya. Why can’t the Passuk keep to one form? If the verse starts with the name of Elokim speaking, then why can’t the Passuk finish by Hashem saying to Moshe, ‘Ani Elokim’?

And if that weren’t enough, Chazal make things more complicated. VaYidaber/Dibur versus VaYomer/Amirah are not merely two ways of saying the same thing. VaYidaber, Chazal tell us is used in cases where God wants to convey something in strict or terms. This is called Lashon Kasheh. When Hashem says something that starts with VaYomer, it’s Lashon Racha, a style of compassionate speech. So now our question is one layer deeper: How does the Passuk start with Lashon Kasheh and end with Lashon Rachah? What happened here? God, within a matter of a few words dramatically switched His mood? God switches moods?

And we also need to analyze; at least on a cursory level, the differences between Shem Havaya and Elokim. What is the Passuk telling us by using two distinct names of HaKadosh Baruch Hu? We will take two approaches, which in essence will both point us in the same direction.

The holy Rebbe Aharon MiZilichov in his Sefer Ohr HaGanuz LaTzadikim explains that Yud-Kay-Vav-Kay, Shem Havaya is coming from Lma’alah MiDerech HaTeva - Above the forces of nature. It’s explained that the intention needed when saying Hashem’s name (we pronounce it in a way that begins with Ado and ends with Noi) is Haya Hoveh V’Yihiyeh - God was, is, and always will be. He’s not intrinsically bound to time, or anything in this universe for that matter. Elokim’s intention, on the other hand is Ba’al HaKochos Kulam - the Controller of all forces. This is God’s hand inside the world. The push that make the fire burn, the wind blow, the energy that forces lighting to flash.

If Elokim is inside nature, and Shem Havaya is above it then we can begin to shed some light on our verse.

The Midrash tells us that no one, not a single slave in Egyptian history ever escaped bondage there. Mitzrayim was sealed shut. The Jews were weak and psychologically tormented. They had no means of defending themselves against their taskmasters who were armed to the teeth. Nature dictated that there was no escape. And for two hundred and ten years there wasn’t. But that was until now.

The first Passuk of this week’s Parsha is the transition from exile to redemption. The Passuk begins with Elokim - God’s hand in nature – connecting us back to last week where the natural order of things dictated to us that there was no hope. The second half of our Passuk, on the other hand, is where Shem Havaya moves into center-stage and miraculous wonders can begin to occur. No matter what the circumstance, an energy that comes from a place much loftier than this world begins to shine. And from there the redemption from the menacing Egypt can begin.

There is another (but not contradictory) difference between Elokim and Yud-Kay-Vav-Kay. Rebbe Yaakov Abuchatzeirah, Zechuso Tagen Aleinu in Pituchei Chotam brings down that Elokim is God’s name in times of Midas HaDin and God uses Shem Havaya in times of Midas HaRachamim. Midas HaDin could be approached as strict justice, God’s harsh dealings with the world. This explains its connection in the Passuk to VaYidaber which we already explained is Lashon Kasheh. Shem Havaya and it’s connection to Midas HaRachamim are a display of mercy and God’s love. If this is so, we now see clearly why the Passuk ends by connecting Lashon Racha to Midas HaRachamim.

With everything we‘ve said, we can being to piece together why the Torah uses this Passuk as the transition from the slavery which escalates in Parshas Shemos to the Geulah which commences in Parshas Va’era. That verse beings with VaYidaber Elokim - Elokim, Midas HaDin in the natural world - spoke, with Lashon Kasheh to Moshe, and with Lashon Racha He told Moshe I am Shem Havaya, Midas HaRachamim, Lma’alah MiDerech HaTeva. This Passuk is the switch. Says Hashem to Moshe, ‘Until now the Jewish experience in Egypt has been Midas HaDin. And according to the way the world looks, there is no getting out. I know. But you need to know something too. Right now we’re beginning the turnaround. Right now we’re starting a revolution. You and Me are going to pull this people out of here. And we’re going to it with love, and with compassion and with big, amazing miracles’ - “VaYidber Elokim El Moshe VaYomer Eilav Ani Hashem .”

Says the Sfas Emes, Geula means knowing that even the Galus, even the exile itself comes from a higher source. On the historic and personal level, when I begin to realize that all difficulties come straight from Hashem, I’m already shining God’s presence into the situation and that is the start of the redemption itself.

And if this is true we understand another beautiful nuance in the Passuk. VaYidber Elokim El Moshe - Elokim is doing the talking here - VaYomer Eilav Ani Hashem, and Elokim says Ani Shem Havaya - it’s all coming from one place. Which is why Elokim shares the same Gematria, numerical value as the term Ani Hashem.

This is the most empowering thing that a Jew can know in his life if he wants to overcome a struggle. All the Midas HaDin situations that I encounter in my life, they are all really coming from a place of Midas HaRachamim. Hashem doesn’t send me challenges because He wants to torment me. He wants me to grow. All of my difficulties are meaningful. Every tension, headache, test of patience and every saddening experience that comes my way is there so that I can become a better person as a result of it. Only when Moshe hears this Passuk can he begin to be an active participant in the redemptive process. And I need to internalize it if I want to be a part of my own microcosmic Geulah as well.

B’Ezras Hashem we should all be Zocheh to live with such a clarity of mind. For if we can, thereis no doubt that we will live lives of Shleimus and Simcha, moving closer to HaKadosh Baruch Hu and ultimately the Geulah Sheleimah!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Shemos: Knowledge is Power

This week’s Parsha progresses with a dramatic pace. Within the first few verses the entire generation of the tribes die out. With this, a new Pharaoh arises, and immediately the slavery intensely tightens its grip and infanticide ensues as well. Although many years pass, it’s a matter of a few words before we learn about the hidden birth of Moshe Rabeinu. His life is saved, he grows in the palace of Paroh, eventually identifying with his roots, and in a moment of courageousness he strikes a deathblow to an Egyptian in defense of his Jewish brethren which forces him to flee to Midyan. There he meets Yisro and marries Tziporah.

After the Torah sets the stage of Moshe’s character, God decides that the time of redemption has arrived. The Jews cry out and, “VaYishma Elokim El Na’akasam” – And God heard their moaning – “VaYizkor Elokim Es Briso” – and God remembered His covenant with the forefathers – “VaYar Elokim Es Bnei Yisrael” – and God saw the state of the Jewish people.

So God hears the plea of Jewish people. He remembers that they must be redeemed. And He sees the situation, which puts the whole thing in context.

It seems that Hashem had everything in place. The Passuk puts everything in perspective. We see that the time has come. It would make perfect sense if we began to hear about how God introduces Himself to Moshe, putting the redemption into effect. The verse needs to say no more.

The problem is that it does.

After hearing, remembering and seeing, we would think that Hashem got the message. We would think that we don’t need to be told anymore. Every single word in the Torah is sharply allocated with the upmost directness. So why does our aforementioned Passuk end with “VaYeida Elokim” - ‘And God knew’? It sounds like an awfully dramatic way to trail off! ‘And God heard… And He remembered… And He saw… And God knew…’

Simply put: With all the given background, what is the Torah adding by telling us that on top of everything God also knew?

And on an even more fundamental level we can ask an even stronger question: God is omniscient (all-knowing). What does it mean that God knew? What, He didn’t know before? Only now does God have a revelation that the time of redemption has come? It seems almost heretical!

Our answer is based on a teaching of the Naos HaDasheh, the holy Sochatchover Rebbe. To understand VaYeida Elokim, we need begin with a closer analysis of the nature of what Da’as is really all about.

On a weekday, the fourth blessing of the Amidah is the Bracha of Chonen HaDa’as - the request for knowledge. On Motzaei Shabbos when we do Havdalah the private separation between the holy Shabbos and the mundane days of the week, the paragraph in which that separation is made is added into the Bracha of Chonen HaDa’as.

Why specifically there? Chazal us, “Im Ein Da’as, Havdalah Minayin?” If there is no Da’as how can there be separation? Without this Midah, the attribute of Da’as - it would be impossible to separate between the holiness of Shabbos and the rest of the week. For this reason Havdalah takes place in Chonen HaDa’as.

The Midrash tells us that a Torah scholar without Da’as is comparable to a carcass – he’s useless. And who is the paradigm, the shining example of a Talmid Chacham with Da’as? Moshe Rabbeinu! How do we know that he had this Midah of Da’as? Because even though he was called the ‘father’ of all prophets, even though he was the redeemer of the Jewish people, even though he went up to heaven and delivered the Torah to the Jews – he didn’t enter into the Mishkan until he was told. He knew where he belonged and where he didn’t. He knew his place. He knew how to separate and categorize – this is Da’as.

This gives us a new nuance in our understanding of the consequences of this sin with the Eitz HaDa’as - the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden. We are told that before the sin, everything was clear. Truth was shining and lies were bold-faced. But after eating from the tree confusion began and these lines were blurred. Life is so complicated, and my psyche can be so biased and that sometimes I feel convinced that the best thing for me is really the worst, and I feel totally compelled to carry out what in reality is terrible for my physical or spiritual well-being. History is a process of putting things back in their proper place – by correcting Da’as.

And this also explains why the rise of the new Pharoah causes an escalation in the severity of the slavery. How is he introduced? “VaYakam Melech Chadash Al Mitzrayim” – And a new king rose over Egypt – “Asher Lo Yada Es Yosef” – who did not know of Yosef. Yosef represents separation amongst the nations of the world. Even in the deepest of darkness, he distinguished himself as a man of God, true to his religion, his beliefs, his God, and his purpose in the world. He spread knowledge of God and withheld himself from temptation – drawing clear lines and stating that he knew where he belongs – a masterful demonstration of Im Ein Da’as, Havdalah Minayin. But not knowing, or not recognizing Yosef and his qualities will plunge the Jews into the deepest forms of exile.

In Mitzrayim, Da’as needed serious rectification. Chazal tell us that men were doing women’s labor and women were doing construction. And when the Jews were extracted they were so spiritually desolate that the Ministering Angels of Egypt complained to Hashem saying, “These (the Jews) are idol worshippers, and these (the Egyptians) are idol worshipers! Why take these out and kill the others? What’s the difference?!”

Now we can explain why the verse goes out of its way to tell us VaYeida Elokim. God didn’t learn something new. There was no celestial revelation. Rather in order to go about redeeming the Jewish people, Hashem turned up the dial on supernal Midah of Da’as. VaYeida Elokim means that God activated Da’as in order to begin the processes that would redeem the Jews.

Like we said, on the surface, upon their exodus from Egypt the Jewish people were practically indistinguishable from the Egyptians – just like the Egyptian angles claimed. It was only by the merit of a more intrinsic distinction, something more fundamental about the Jewish people – their unique power to bring the world to its perfection - that Hashem yanked out the Jewish people from Egypt, separating them from their almost indiscernible surroundings, because Im Ein Da’as - the Da’as of VaYeida Elokim - Havdalah Minayin?

And this explains why that immediately after telling us VaYeida Elokim are we introduced to Moshe’s becoming chosen as the redeemer. Because Moshe is called by the ZoharRaza D’Da’as - the secret of what Da’as is all about. He is called Da’as Torah. And this explains the Midrash in which God says to Moshe, “If you don’t redeem them, they won’t be redeemed. Because only Moshe, who is a channel of Da’as in the world, is fitting to extract the Jews from Egypt.

The Sfas Emes famously says that the reason that we are commanded to remember the exodus form Egypt everyday is to remind us that every Jew can undergo his own personal exodus from Egypt - whenever he empowers himself to do so.

When I look from the outside I see a personality filled with good traits and bad ones. But I can pull myself out of any negative energy. I can rip from myself any bad trait. I can draw the lines and boundaries that I need in order to ensure the most personal growth.

But in order to create those necessary discernments we need to tap into inner-Da’as. I need to recognize who I really am on the inside. To realize that my true nature is pure and holy, and that any negative outward expressions are simply extraneous shells that outside influences have caked upon my soul.

When I being to realize that my true nature is holy and pure I begin to do the necessary distinctions that I need to truly experience ‘redemption’ and a maximization of my potential. Im Ein Da’as, Havdalah Minyain.

We should be Zocheh to understand who we really are. We should be meritorious enough to tap into the inner wellsprings of spiritual power that are inherit in every Jew – the factor that separates us from the nations of the world. If we can do this, there is no doubt that we will live lives of Shleimus and Simcha moving closer to HaKadosh Baruch Hu and ultimately, the Geulah Sheleimah!

Friday, December 17, 2010

VaYichi: Life - Now In Amazing 3D!

This week’s Parsha begins by telling us, “VaYichi Yaakov B’Eretz Mitzrayim Shva Esrei Shana,” And Yaakov lived in Egypt for seventeen years. Chazal explain in many different places that these were Yaakov’s best years. Only now was he truly alive. The deeper sources go so far as to say that he living a life tantamount to the End of Days, to Acharis HaYamim. Living an idealistic spiritual existence. His whole life was post-Mashiach, living with no problems, no temptation, no bothers; just closeness to Hashem. Vayichi Yaakov B’Eretz Mitzrayim: Kick up your feet and relax – This mamesh is the life.

Rav Shlomo Kluger asks a simple question: Eretz Yisrael is called Artzos HaChayim, the land from which all life-energy is rooted. Techiyas HaMeisim, the resurrection of the dead, comes to fruition in Eretz Yisrael - the power to be alive is here. So how is at all logical to say that Yaakov Avinu was so amazingly alive in Mitzrayim? Even further - how can that even be called life at all?!

The answer is that Yaakov Avinu was living an Eretz-Yisrael-like existence. He had Artzos HaChayim in his head, so even in Mitzrayim he can thrive on an Eretz Yisrael level.

The question is how did he do it? What was it about Yaakov Avinu’s outlook that empowered him and inspired him to such a lofty existence, even in the lowest of places?

The Sfas Emes answers that Yaakov Avinu really understood himself. He was really in touch with his unique Kochos and capabilities, and via that he was able to see through the distracting and daunting shell of Egypt and keep his mind on the goal of Geulah, and if his head is in the right place, then it doesn’t matter where his body is.

Yaakov’s attribute is truth. As we say every week, Titen Emes L’Yaakov - Give truth to Yaakov. What is Emes? What is truth? To have Truth means to have the ability to see past distraction and tap into everything’s essential core. This is truth. Emes means seeing what everything is really all about.

And this is what the outlook of Eretz Yisael is all about. Chazal tell us that Avira D’Artza Machkim - The air of the Land of Israel makes one wise. Rav Kook writes in Oros that when a Jew is in lands of the nations, just being there impedes his higher awareness. The natural spiritual intelligence – a sense of being tuned in to holiness becomes dimmed. There is a spiritual static that disrupts the air.

This is not the case in Eretz Yisrael. In Eretz Yisrael, my elevated qualities are Tzalul V’Barur - clear and lucid, Naki V’Tahor - clean and pure. But most importantly, he writes that the Jewish mind is infinitely more capable to perceive the Hofa’as HaEmes HaElokis - the expressions of Godly truth that penetrates all reality.

This truth; the reality that all things are totally and completely under God’s control at all times, is the make-it-or-break-it point of exile versus redemption. BaYom HaHu Yihiye Hashem Echad U’Shemo Echad means that on the day of the Great Revelation of Hashem’s unity, we will all see with the utmost clarity that God’s specific attention enlivens all things.

But we are told through Chazal that even before that day where He pulls off the mask, a person can reveal this truth to himself! I can choose to see through all the noise. I can choose to relate to my soul as the real me. I can choose (or at least attempt) to focus on HaKadosh Baruch Hu’s total dominance. I can constantly relate to that Hofa’as HaEmes HaElokis. When I do that – I’m living in my own personal redemption.

Says the Sfas Emes, when the Passuk tells us VaYichi Yaakov B’Eretz Mitzrayim, we are being told that Yaakov was a vessel; he was channeling through himself this Eretz-Yisrael-sense. By fully actualizing his attribute of Emes he was teaching by example how to be in Artzos HaChayim even in what the Torah calls Ervas Ha’Aretz - the land of Egypt, a place totally engrossed in filth.

Eretz Yisrael is about Emes. Emes is a Geulah state-of-mind. So if I engrain in myself the deepest, realest kind of Emes - Yaakov Avinu Emes, so much so that it becomes my very personality; I take the Geulah with me no matter where I go. And with that we can have VaYichi Yaakov – Titen Emes L’Yaakov – B’Eretz Mitzrayim.

At the end of the Parsha Yaakov tells his children, “Hei’Asfu V’Agida Lachem Es Asher Yikra Eschem Ba’Acharis HaYamim,” Gather around and I’ll tell you what will happen to you in the End of Days.

Now we see a new depth in how Yaakov was able to tell them what would happen in the End of Days. As we have explained, in a very real way, Yaakov Avinu was already there! So now he could begin to reveal a date, a description, everything that that the days of redemption would be.

But as we are told, this did not come to fruition. The Ruach HaKodesh, the divine inspiration that would allow him to reveal these secrets, left him. Yaakov was no longer able to relate this unity.

Why? The Midrashim tell us that Yaakov was concerned that just like Avraham had Yishmael, and Yitzchak had Eisav, perhaps one among his sons was generating a negative energy. Perhaps one of them was not seeing the world through the lens of Emes that is required to be connected to the End of Days.

On another level, the Sefer Mima’amakim brings from Rav Moshe Shapira and the Sfas Emes that the number twelve, the number of the tribes is a number that when left unchecked is a manifestation of dispersion. Try it; it takes twelve lines, twelve bars to draw a cube. A cube is a 3D model of space. (Check out the Chanukah essay for a more detailed description) But there is a very important center point in the middle of the cube that holds things together. The Point of Context, the Factor that keeps everything connected. This Factor is our recognition of Hashem. (Check out the Chanukah essay for a more detailed description)

For this reason the word Echad, which means one, has the numerical value of thirteen. Twelve components and one unifying factor. The unity of all space comes through the unification of twelve.

This adds a new beauty to how the Midrash tells us that the tribes responded. What did they answer back to Yaakov? Shema Yisrael! Hashem Elokeinu Hashem Echad! Listen up Yisrael! Listen up Father! We know that Hashem is One! We recognize His unity! We are in the right state-of-mind for this revelation. We together make up the twelve components and the unifying factor!

But it was too late. Yaakov no longer knew the date. But Chazal tell us that he revealed the secrets in a hidden way instead. Instead of describing the End of Days, Yaakov gave all of the tribes blessings and he defined each one. Yehuda is a lion. Dan is a Snake. Yissachar is a Donkey. Zevulun is a sea-trader. Each one was defined by his truest essence.

And this is the underlying secret of Geulah. The only way for there to be a clear, well built, and unified cube – there needs to be well defined parts.

Emes needs to penetrate all details for the unity to be pulled together. Only when I try to understand everything, when I see the unique and special essence of all the differences can I begin to see the unifying factor. If everything is the same, then finding a unifying theme is no big deal. Beauty by its very definition is harmony of differences. Pulling together many colors, many aspects to form one portrait is where true beauty is. It’s only when I discover the common denominator that unifies all the dispersion – the number thirteen that unifies the first twelve – it is only then that BaYom HaHu Yihiye Hashem Echad fully emerges. Beauty by its very definition is harmony of differences. Pulling together many colors, many aspects to form one portrait is where true beauty is.

This is why Yaakov’s full accessing of his attribute of Emes geared him towards a Geulah state of mind. When we tap into this, we too can begin to understand our unique capabilities, our unique strengths, and our unique way of revealing the unifying point and how we can do our part in tying it all together – bringing together all the dispersion and bringing us all to the ultimate Geulah BaYom HaHu Yihiye Hashm Echad Ushmo Echas - Amen.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Post Chanukah/Teves/VaYigash: Just Around the Riverbend

The following has been adapted based on concepts from Rav Sitorsky andHaLekach V’HaLibuv.

Chanukah is unique in that is the only holiday in the entirety of the Jewish calendar that crosses over into two months. It stars on the twenty-fifth of Kislev, but spends a little bit of time illuminating Teves as well.

In order to fully understand this, we need to analyze some other components. This week’s Parsha of VaYigash is the way we enter into the month, and therefore in coordination with whatever Teves represents as it comes in with Chanukah, it needs to be reconciled with the themes of VaYigash too.

In many ways Teves is a painful month. On the fifth, the Navi Yechezkel tells us that news reached Bavel regarding the destruction of the Temple. On the ninth, Ezra HaSofer dies and with his death the Jewish people end their relationship with prophecy. On the tenth there is a fast day because on that day Yerushalayim (may it be rebuilt speedily) was put under siege; an event which led to it’s eventual downfall.

This theme carries over into the Parsha as well. In this week’s Parsha, all the tribes, representative of all the Jewish people are all in Egpyt together, laying the roots of the exile. When Yosef HaTzadik reveals himself, he and Binyamin cry, leaning on each other’s necks. The Gemara in Megilah tells us that Binyamin was crying over the destruction of the Mishkan, located in the portion of Yosef. Yosef was crying over the destruction of the first and second Temples which were to be located in the portion on Binyamin. Just as the neck connects head and body, upper to lower, so too the Beis HaMikdash connects heaven and earth, the Jewish People to God. The destruction of the Temple is a spiritual slit throat.

The mystical sources teach us that each one of the tribes is appointed over a specific month. Lined up with this tribe is also a letter. This month, the month of TevesShevet is Dan, and this month’s letter is Ayin.

These two factors provide us with more food for thought. The numerical value of Ayin is seventy. In VaYigash, Yaakov Avinu brings the totality of the Jewish people – all seventy souls – down to Egypt and into exile. We are told by Chazal that there are seventy root gentile nations, each one who poses its own unique challenge to one of these root souls of the Jewish people. Egypt contained all these powers at once – the root for all the exiles and oppressing nations. How do we know this? Each one of these nations has a unique language, and Chazal tell us that Paroh knew them all, thereby accessing all there negativity at once. The Chasam Sofer also tells us that the Agalos, the chariots that Yosef sent to Yaakov were really a metaphor for the seventy nations that will test us throughout history. How? The word Agalos spells Ayin-Galus, ‘The exile of seventy.’

Every word and letter finds its root in its first usage in the Torah, and Ayin does not come in with positive connotations. In the second verse of the Torah after stating that God created the heavens and earth. The Torah then lists four descriptions of how the world was desolate and abysmal. Chazal tell us that these four descriptions parallel the four major exiles of the Jewish people. The final one listed is Al Pnei T’hom - ‘Upon the surface of the deep.’ This is the Roman exile that has morphed and shifted through various forms and lasts until today. Al Pnei T’hom begins with an Ayin. And the three major forces at play in this final exile - Eisav, Amalek and Yishmael, all contain the letter Ayin in their names.

Shevet Dan, the-tribe-of-the-month is also a target of this negative energy. In the journey towards Mount Sinai, it is specifically the tribe of Dan that is attacked by Amalek.

Dan’s only son was Chushim. He was deaf and mute. Because in comparison to Kislev things dramatically quiet down this month.

The Yarden, the Jordan River, which has the letters of ‘Yered Dan’, Dan descends – is in the land-portion of Dan. The Jordan River serves as the ultimate obstacle, the body of water that must be crossed in order enter into the land of Israel, and like we see by Yehoshua, to the cross the river is a miraculous feat. The river that is rooted in Dan’s portion is the blockade that tries to keep us out of Eretz Yisrael.

To enter into Eretz Yisrael, Yaakov Avinu also had to cross the Jordan. How did he do so? The Passuk in VaYishlach tells us, “Ki V’Makli Avarti Es HaYarden HaZos. ‘With my staff I crossed this Jordan.’ The Shelah HaKadosh explains that words Ki V’Makli - ‘For with my staff’ hold the secret of how to cross the Yarden - the symbol of all of the challenges of Teves.

Ki V’Makli is spelled with the letters Kaf, Yud, Beis, Mem, Kuf, Lamed, and another Yud. Four of these letters spell Makabi (Mem, Kaf, Beis, Yud) the legion of Jewish warriors that overcame the Greeks in the war of Chanukah. The letters that make up Makabi can serve as an acrostic, as Rashei Teivos for Baruch Kavod Hashem M’Mkomo - ‘Blessed is the Honor of Hashem from His place.’ It also heads the words of the phrase Mi Kamocha B’Eilim Hashem?!, ‘Hashem! Who is like You among all the powers?’

The three remaining letters of Ki V’Makli are Kuf, Lamed and the second Yud. These three letters are the Rashei Teivos of LiShuascha Kivisi Hashem! ‘Hashem! I hope for Your salvation.’

The Shelah HaKadosh is teaching us that the way to cross the Yarden. The way to overcome the difficult hurdle that is Teves and all that comes with it is to tap back into the power of the Maccabees. Chazal tell us that Chanukah is all about thanking and praising Hashem. (Eight days of Hallel. Al HaNisim in the Bracha of Modim. The candles can’t be used, only looked at, K’dei L’Hodos U’L’Halel - to thank and praise. We eat commemorate the miracle, and we light where others can see it so that we can spread His greatness.) When I praise Hashem, I connect myself to that greatness – and through this thanks I become empowered.

And now we understand why Makabi serves as the acrostic for the two aforementioned phrases. A Makabi is a warrior or a hammer, because when we pay tribute to Hashem, it intensifies us – and with that might we can overcome the struggles that come with exile-motifs ofTeves.

This also answers why Chanukah extends into Teves. Hashem is telling us that the only way to overpower the negative energies of Teves is to extend into it the vigor of Chanukah.

And from this we understand why the three remaining letters of Ki V’Makli hinted towards LiShuascha Kivisi Hashem. Where did this phrase originate? In Yaakov Avinu’s blessing to Dan! Because through this phrase’s connection to Makabi we can channel tremendous force, even to Dan.

Yaakov told us that it was Ki V’Makli that he crossed Es HaYarden. This phrase of Es HaYarden has the same numerical value as the end of the familiar blessing that we just recited eight times V’Tzivanu L’Hadlik Ner Chanukah (many opinions drop the word Shel). Because with the power of Chanukah, by extending the power of V’Tzivanu L’Hadlik NEr Chanukah, we can cross Es HaYarden.

If Teves is the month that we begin to learn about exile, then we understand why Chanukah is chronologically the last holiday added to the calendar. Because it the power of thanking, praising and connecting to Hashem that we learn from Chanukah that will help us overcome the long and difficult month of Teves microcosmically and on the macrocosmic level, the Al Pnei T’hom that we mentioned before.

This isn’t just about Chanukah to Teves via VaYigash. This is about overcoming the exile as a whole. One of the main weapons that we have to overcome this long and dark process called Galus Edom is our investment in our relationship with Hashem. The more we praise Hashem, the more that we talk to Him, the more that we relate our excitement to others and inspire them to do the same – the more we are really empowering ourselves. When we connect upstairs, we are hooking ourselves up to literally endless spiritual resources. This is the message of Chanuka, this is how a bunch of old men beat the Greek army, and it this force that will push us through all the way to the Geulah Sheleimah!

Friday, December 3, 2010

Chanukah: Dreidel - Way Deeper Than You Thought

Ever since we’ve been little, it’s been a time-tested tradition: If we land on Shin we put one in. Got a Hei? Take half the winnings. Nun? No loss, no gain. And of course, things get really crazy when we land a Gimel. All those pennies in the middle? They’re ours now.

Okay, so what’s going on? Where is the Dreidel from? What’s really its purpose? Does it have a deeper meaning? The goal of this essay is not to explain the rules of the game, we’re trying to figure out what the Dreidel is telling us.

(Warning: We will not talk about Neis Gadol Haya Po - A great miracle happened here. Po is a marketing scam. The correct version is the Shin of Sham - ‘there’. We will explain the tremendous importance of this.)

Our journey begins with the Maharal’s understanding of this world as a whole. The Torah begins, Bereishis Barah Elokim Es HaShamayim V’Es HaAretz - in the beginning God created the heavens and the land. V’Ha’Aretz Haisa Tohu Va’Vohu V’Choshech Al Pnei Tihom - And the land was abysmal and empty and their was darkness upon the surface of the deep.

Chazal tell us that these four descriptions of the world are really hints to the four exiles. ‘Abysmal‘ means Babylon. ‘Empty’ means Persia. ‘Darkness’ is a reference to Greece, and ‘Deep’ is the final exile, from Rome until today.

But the verse isn’t over, “V’Ruach Elokim Mirachefes Al Pnei HaMayim” And the spirit of Hashem hovered over the surface of the waters. This, Chazal tell us, is a reference to the spirit of Mashiach, the force of Tikun Olam which permeates through the length of history.

But Why? Why does the Torah jump right into exiles the moment the universe is formed? Was there any sin done? And more, even if we say that the journey of the exiles is a necessary process; why did Hashem give us specifically four?

If we look at the verses carefully, we will pick up an important nuance. The Torah began by telling us that Hashem created the heavens and the land. But then the Torah tells us that the land - not the heavens – was abysmal and empty.

From this we learn an important rule. All the emptiness, dispersion and astonishing darkness is relevant down here, not in the higher realms of existence.

Chazal tell us that the Next World was created with the letter Yud. On the other hand, this world was created with a Hei. Let’s take a moment to explore what this means.

A Yud is in no way connected to the ground. On the contrary, it floats. The Yud is a simple entity which can’t be broken down into smaller components. Therefore the letter Yud represents unity. In the supernal and celestial levels of reality there is no challenge to God’s unity – Hashem’s reign takes the form of a Yud - eminent and undisturbed.

This world, where things become material, the whole game changes. Because with the advent of tangible physicality there is an inherit challenge to Hashem’s unified dominion. Even though we know this to be false, physical objects seem to take on an identity separate from their Creator. Because material objects don’t have an outright “Made By God” stamp on them, it’s easy to think that they have of a life of their own.

When things leave the stage of supernal unification and enter into physical corporeality they disperse into four. Four hemispheres, four directions, four winds, four corners of the world – call it what you want. Even in Bereishis when the Torah tells us about the transition from the Garden of Eden to the mundane world the Torah tells us that the Garden’s influence enters into the world via four rivers. When faced with which way to go, my choice will always be some permutation of forward, back, left, or right. In short, four is the dispersion of physicality.

But even though all things physically express themselves by spreading into four directions, there is a fifth point as well; the point in the center, giving the other four context. My friend might to be my left and the wall to my right, but we are both left of the wall, and both the wall and myself are to the right of my friend. Left and right are relative to what is center. The point in the middle always establishes the context of the four directions.

This is why Chazal told us that this world was created with a Hei. Hei is comprised of two parts. The bigger outer portion of a Hei is really a Daled with the numerical value of four. The smaller, internal part of the Hei is really just a Yud that is now resting on the ground.

The manifestation is clear. The Yud in its natural levitating state, as we said before, is God’s rule. But when that Yud reaches this world, when it rests, a Daled emerges from it and surrounds it. Daled which has the numerical value of four, shows us that all the dispersion of physicality is really surrounding the fifth point of context – which is the Yud - Ratzon Hashem.

Now we understand why the Torah starts to tell us about the exiles as soon as it begins. Because once there is a physical universe, which is on some level separate from God, the four angles of dispersion each take on their ‘personality’ – their own unique way of challenging God’s total control. The Torah is teaching us that the evil empires that contest Hashem’s dominance are a natural result of the universe’s existence.

The Maharal tells us what these four challenges are. Bavel, the first exile challenges our Nefesh. They challenge our souls by destroying the first Beis HaMikdash. After the Babylonians, we were exiled by the Persians, who sought to destroy our Guf, our bodies. Haman’s task was nothing more sophisticated than mass murder. The Greeks challenged our Sechel, our minds. Hellenism, Philosophy and the like were attempts to impurify the sanctity of Jewish culture, this time without any threat to our bodies. Lastly, Edom from whom we suffer from today, attacks us with HaKol - everything. The empire of Edom in its various forms and stages has tried to decree against our religious practice, kill us and defile our minds and hearts.

When physicality comes into being there will always be four challenges to overcome: Nefesh, Guf, Sechel and Hakol.

An amazing teaching of the Bnei Yisachar will bring everything back to our topic.

All things have their root, and even the four exiles had a prototype and that was the Jews’ stay in Egypt. Before the Jews went down as a unit, Yaakov Avinu sent Yehudah down to establish a town where the Jews would be able to live together amongst the Egyptians. When Yaakov sent him down, he told Yehuda to go Goshna - towards the city of Goshen. Goshna would be the center-point, a place where Jews would be together, even when surrounded by a super-force like Egypt.

Goshna is a microcosm for the Jews throughout history. A small beacon of Ratzon Hashem that shines through the Galus, slowly bring out the holiness that is hidden in the deepest and farthest places.

Goshna is comprised of four letters: Gimel Shin Nun and Hei, standing for Nefesh, Guf, Sechel and HaKol. Because even in the midst of the four powers that seek to challenge Ratzon Hashem there will always be a interior point, the Yud that rests on the ground, the contextual centerpiece that drives the whole thing towards the eventual goal of unifying all the dispersion - and that is the Jews.

The role of the Jews is to be the undoing of this dispersion. When we are ingathered from the four corners of the world it marks the downfall of the empires that challenge God’s unity.

This is the Dreidel. The Dreidel has four sides, with four letters - Nun, Gimel, Shin and Hei representing the inherit dispersion physicality and its challenges to God’s rule.

Chazal teach us that the Jews were playing with the Dreidel way before the story of Chanukah. When I look at the Dreidel, with its four letters I see exile. I see the distracting nature of all material things. But when those four sides begin to spin around the center point – the square becomes a circle.

A circle is unity - V’Na’aseh Kulam Agudah Achas La’asos Ritzonecha! ‘And make of them all one group – bound together to do Your Will.’ We say at the end of Messeches Ta’anis that in the world to come all of the righteous will sit in a circle to enjoy the presence of Hashem.

Spinning the square undoes all of the dispersion. The four sides of the Dreidel are undone when we see how everything revolves around the center-point – the Jews. That point on which the Dreidel spins is the Jews in Goshna surrounded by Egypt – eventually being the source of Egypt’s downfall.

For generations Jews have stared at the Dreidel and have taken the same message. It is our job to be the undoing of all of the dispersion. To take all the sqaures and make them circle. We are the center-point that will take the four exiles and nullify them.

B’Ezras Hashem we should be Zocheh to constantly uncover the Ratzon Hashem that is contained in every object to see the Hei that this world was created with and see past its Daled and access its Yud. Through this, there is no doubt that we will live lives of Simcha and Shleimus moving closer to HaKadosh Baruch Hu and eventually the Geulah!

Friday, November 19, 2010

VaYishlach/Chanukah: Putting It All On The Line

Some of the ideas in this essay have been adapted from a Rav Avraham Schorr in his Sefer HaLekach V’Halibuv, Rav Moshe Shapiro in his Sefer Afikei Mayim, the Sfas Emes and the Shem MiShmuel. If there are concepts that I misunderstood; and thereby improperly conveyed, I apologize.

In the beginning of this week’s Parsha, Yaakov Avinu prepares for his reunion with his brother and nemesis - Eisav HaRasha. After sending gifts to appease him, and splitting up the camp in order to outsmart him; Yaakov, in a last minute decision decides to backtrack in the middle of the night to recover some forgotten containers. There he meets an angel, whom he wrestles with the whole night. Locked in stalemate, the angel lands a blow to Yaakov’s hip, but Yaakov doesn’t give up, rather he retains a headlock on his challenger and demands a blessing. The angel concedes and blesses Yaakov by giving him a new name: Yisrael.

It’s brought down that this strike to Yaakov’s hip was a P’gam, a ‘wound’ in the cosmic attribute of Hod; and through this, all of our problems with Greece begin as well. We need to clarify what Hod is, how this struggle damaged it, how this is connected to Greece, why the angel’s attack occurred now, and most importantly of all what we can take out of it all.

Hod means magnificence or glory. The deeper sources teach us that the beauty of Hod is different than other types of beauty. Hod is the beauty of revealing a splendor contained within. When externals are subdued to let the internal purity shine through – this is Hod.

In regards to our Avodah, Hod is our ability to be Modeh to Hashem. Modeh, L’Hodot, Hoda’a all have connotations of thanks and admittance. What is the common denominator between to thank and to admit? The answer is that when I thank someone, I admit that something I have is really attributed to him or her. When I admit in court that I in fact owe my friend two hundred dollars, I’m saying that in my possession is something that is not really relevant to me, even though right now it is physically located near me.

The Ramban explains that this is why we are called Yihudim (also from the same Lashon), because the entire role of a Jew lies inHod; to reveal and admit that no matter what the world says, everything s really Hashem’s. By thanking Hashem, we reveal His true ownership over everything and thereby return all physicality back to its spiritual source. Our relating things back to Hashem, sheds them of their dull physicality and reveals their inner beauty, i.e.: their connection to the divine. This is Hod.

It’s brought down that the different spiritual attributes parallel the human body. Hod corresponds to the leg/thigh. Why? The thigh is the part of my body that I use to bow, like we do during Modim (again, the same Lashon). By bowing, I say that I am subduing my body so that is can be a vessel of Ratzon Hashem. Bowing at the hip is an Avodah of Hod. In my life, all times that I ‘bow’ – all the times that I suppress my body so that my soul can shine through, I begin to express my inner Hod.

When the angel strikes Yaakov in the hip, an attempt is made to impede his ability to bow, and therefore the bang to the leg is a P’gam in Hod.

But why is the angelic ambush specifically posed against Yaakov Avinu now? As we mentioned before, Yaakov runs back in the middle of the night to find some lost containers. The Midrash tells us that these containers held oil inside, and even more amazingly it was this oil that lasted through the generations and was used to light the Menorah during the miracle of Chanuka! With a worldview of Hod, where everything is a vessel to reveal God’s dominion, every single thing in my possession gains an elevated purpose – everything is now of tremendous importance. How can I just let my possessions slip through my fingers? Everything I own is an instrument used to reveal God’s unity! So Yaakov makes a midnight run to retake another small tool to reveal just a little more Hod in the world – and it is here where the angel challenges him.

Through this jolt to the hip, the Jews received a prohibition: we can no longer eat from the Gid HaNasheh, which is commonly translated as the sciatic nerve, a tendon that runs through the thigh. Why is it called the Gid HaNasheh? The Zohar says because it is the Gid, the nerve which is Menasheh, which causes forgetfulness in man. (In Parshas Miketz we read the term Ki Nishani ‘because I was forgotten’. Enosh is also a description of mankind in his forgetful state.) The Gid HaNasheh is a tendon, that when eaten, creates a spiritual reality that causes one to forget the good that God does to him.

In essence the Gid HaNasheh and it’s consumption are in direct opposition to the attribute and beauty of Hod. When I thank Hashem, I tap into Hod. When I associate with the Gid HaNasheh, I forget Him and therefore push Hod farther away. Simply put, it’s Hod versus Gid HaNasheh. Hod is the part of my thigh that helps me serve Hashem, the Gid HaNasheh is the part of the thigh that prevents me from doing so.

Greece is compared to the hip. In one of Daniel’s prophecies he sees a statue comprised of four parts, each one corresponding to one of the four exiles. There, the hips, which are described as the third segment, are analogous with the Greek domination. It’s brought down that this paralleling of the Greeks to the hips teaches us that Greece stands as the opposition to Hod.

How? Greeks introduced philosophy. They tell us that we don’t need a Torah, because all the wisdom you need is right there is your brain. The olympics teach us to glorify the body. In essence they tell us that reality starts and ends with human capabilities and that there is no need to tap into a higher source. There is no reason to attribute things to a higher power. So we see very clearly that the Greek mentality stand in direct disagreement to everything that Hod stands for.

This is why they attempt to impurify the Beis HaMikdash. The Gemara in Brachos tells us that the term Hod is a reference to the Beis HaMikdash. Why? Because it is there that we fully ‘bow’ to Hashem, in the physical and figurative sense. There, through animal sacrifice, we clearly say that the physical is merely a vessel that reveals the divine.

The Zohar tells us that the three hundred and sixty five negative prohibitions line up with the days of the solar year. The prohibition of eating the Gid HaNasheh corresponds to Tisha B’Av, the day of the destruction of the Temple. The day of the loss of the Beis HaMikdash, is the day that we lose Hod, and therefore it corresponds to the Gid HaNasheh, the energy that opposes Hod.

It’s brought down that the two names of Yaakov and Yisrael correspond to the body and soul respectively. So it is only when Yaakov, the body side, puts his life on the line for the sake of Hod can he achieve the highest level of personal Hod by letting his soul shine through and attain the name Yisrael corresponding to his spirit-portion.

And therefore it is only when the Chashmonaim; the Maccabees, put their physical bodies on the line in defense of the Beis HaMikdash and everything that Hod stands for can they find the very same containers of oil that Yaakov Avinu put his body on the line for, and did so for the very same reason. And when they do, they reveal from within this oil supernatural amount spirituality. For nothing reveals godliness in this world, nothing serves as a vehicle of Hod as much as an open miracle, and the classic example of an open miracle is the oil’s burning for eight straight days.

The whole world stands in the way of Hod. Culture screams to us that we should see things only on the surface. Billboards and disposable cutlery dull us to any deeper sense of reality. But it is our job, like Yaakov Avinu and Chashmonaim to put ourselves on the line and see through all the density that blinds us to the meaning of life. It is this mentality that re-establishes the Beis HaMikdash.

B’Ezras Hashem we should be Zocheh to perceive the world in such an exalted manner. Because if we can, there is no doubt that we will live lives of Simcha and meaning, moving closer to HaKadosh Baruch Hu and ultimately the Geulah Sheleimah!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Kislev/Vayeitzei: Extraction

We know that the Avos instituted the Tefilos, the prayers that we use to connect to Hashem. Each one of our forefathers set up a prayer K’neged - in parallel to one of three daily Korbanos.

Avraham Avinu instituted Tfilas Shacharis K’neged the Tamid of the morning. In Parshas Chayei Sarah, Yitzchak Avinu introduced the afternoon service of Mincha K’neged the Tamid Shel Bein HaArbayim. These two offerings culminate with the throwing of blood on the Mizbeiach, on the altar, a process called Zrikas HaDam.

In this week’s Parsha, as Yaakov Avinu leaves his home, he stops at what he later finds out is the Temple Mount. There institutes Ma’ariv, the prayer that is K’neged the Eivarim, the limbs which burn on the Mizbeiach all night.

Why is it that Avraham and Yitzchak institute Tefilos K’neged Zrikas HaDam, and Yaakov Avinu set’s up a Tefila Kneged the Eivarim?

The Shem MiSmuel explains based on a Midrash. The Midrash points us to a Passsuk in Tehilim. The Passuk says, “Tzamah Licha Nafshi, Kamah Licha Bisari.” ‘Hashem, my soul thirsts for You, my body yearns for You.’ The Midrash tells us that Yaakov knew this Passuk, but he added on to it. Kmo She’Nafshi Tzamah Licha, Kach HaEivarim She’Yeish Li Tzamim Licha, In the same way that my soul thirsts for you, so too does my body thirst for you.

What is the Midrash telling us? We already know that his body yearns for Hashem - Kama Licha Bisari! So why would the Midrash add that not only does his body yearn, but like his soul, his body also thirsts for closeness to Hashem. What’s being added here?

The holy Shem MiShmuel explains that the Midrash is telling us that Yaakov Avinu attained such a degree of holiness in his physical body that his body was elevated to the level of a soul, and therefore the Passuk of Tzamah Licha Nafshi, Kama Licha Bisari is not enough, but also Kmo She’Nafshi Tzamah Licha, Kach HaEivarim She’Yeish Li Tzamim Licha - my body is as spiritually sensitive as my soul is.

With this in mind we can begin understand why it is Davka Yaakov who institutes the Tefilah K’neged the Eivarim.

The morning and afternoon both fall under the category of day, light and brightness. These terms are themes that are connected to outright spirituality. The soul is light, he who is holy has a face that ‘shines’, Tzadikim benefit from the ‘glow’ of the Shechina, the righteous are enlightened. So it makes sense that the Tefilos of the day are connected to blood.

Why? Because the Passuk in Devarim tells us, “HaDam Hu HaNefesh” ‘The blood is the (seat of) the soul.’ The physical component of the soul’s life-giving force is found in the blood. Thus the blood is the most material way to relate to the soul. And based on this; the day, which is the time of metaphorical spiritual clarity, has sacrifices that will relate directly to the soul, as we see by the sprinkling of the blood by the Timidim of Shacharic and Bein HaArbayim.

The night on the other hand is darkness. This is physicality. The material world is dense. In both the physical and metaphorical sense, we can’t see through it. In the same way it is impossible to visually penetrate a wall, so too it is extremely difficult to see past the body and relate to the soul. It is so easy to become blinded by that which is real to the touch, and miss the deeper meaning contained within.

The scene of Parshas Vayeitzei opens with night. The sun dramatically disappears on Yaakov Avinu and night comes upon him. It is specifically then, in the time of material and metaphorical darkness that Yaakov taps into his exalted perception of physicality and institutes Ma’ariv. Like we said, Ma’ariv is K’neged the physically dense, dark and very ‘real’ Eivarim. Therefore it is Yaakov, who has Eivarim of his own which are on the elevated level of Nefesh who can elevate such a time, and thereby elevate a service rooted in body to become a service of soul. Beautiful.

We are now entering the night of the year. The day is becoming its shortest and the night is dominating our twenty-four-hour cycle. (Purim is Ayeles HaShachar, sunrise. Pesach is the morning etc…). So it is clearly very fitting that we introduce this concept of ‘spirituality in the night’ as we cross the threshold into the darkness of the year.

The Sefer Yetzira tells us that every month of the year has a letter, body-part and bodily function associated with it. The letter of the Kislev is Samech, the body-part is the stomach and the bodily function listed there is sleep. On top of all that, these factors need be seen through the lens the upcoming holiday of Chanukah.

As we know, the Avodah of Chanukah is candles. The subject of candles in Judaism is perhaps best summed up by the Passuk in Mishlei, “Ki Ner Mitzva V’Torah Ohr” ‘Mitzvos are the candle and the Torah is the light’. What does this mean?

A candle’s role is to convert oil or wax into light. In reality there is potential for light present inside of the fuel, it just needs the candle to extract and reveal it. In essence a candle is a vessel that reveals the light already present in fuel.

The world is a sea of endless dense, physical objects, but contained within all matter is the will of Hashem: how HaKadosh Baruch Hu wants me to relate to all of the physicality that comes my way. Says Chazal, ‘Istakel Be’Oraisa V’Bara Alma’ - Hashem peered into the Torah and created the world. This means that the Torah is inner-frame on which all things are formed. Inside any given object is its Penimius, the Koach of the Torah inside of it its internal value. This is it’s inner component of Razton Hashem. But how do we hit that point?

This is the job of Mitzvos. The Midrash Tanchuma tells us that there is not a single object in the world that can’t be related to through some form of Mitzvah. If every object has some Mitzvah attached to it, then there is always a way of revealing the Koach HaTorah stored inside of that object.

Just like we said that the light is present in the fuel but it needs the candle to expose it, so too the Ohr Torah, the spiritual light enclosed within physicality is revealed through the Ner Mitzvah the candle of the Mitzvos.

Yaakov Avinu, the third of our forefathers goes K’neged the third month of the year. And the concept of attaining the level of soul even in the context of body goes hand-in-hand with we are raising here in respect to Chanukah.

And this could be the ‘Stomach’ of Kislev. The singular role of the stomach is very connected to the above lesson of candles. The entire purpose of the stomach is to extract the life-source from within the food that it comes in contact with. When I look at a granola bar I don’t see the energy to hike up the mountain, but it’s there, and it’s my stomachs job to elevate that food into sustenance. Is there no clearer metaphor for Ki Ner Mitzvah V’Torah Ohr?

And this also could be the ‘sleeping’ that the Sefer Yetzirah connected to Chodesh Kislev. The themes of sleep understandably root themselves in the themes of night. And just like we said night is a metaphor for heightened physicality, so too for sleep. When I pass out, my soul leaves my body. For that reason my inner core of spirituality dims and I become a more physical being. With this in mind, it should be no surprise that Yaakov Avinu attains a prophecy deeper than any of the forefathers, and specifically in a state of unconsciousness. Because just like we said that Yaakov had a body on the level of a soul, so too his sleep was on a level more profound than the average cognizance and alacrity. For in Yaakov’s vision of the ladder that reached heavenward, the Passuk tells us that angels ascended and descended the ladder and Hashem Nitzav Alav, Hashem stood atop the ladder. The Midrash points out that the word Alav doesn’t necessarily mean on the ladder, rather it can be a reference to Yaakov himself. During his transcendental slumber, the presence of Hashem rested Mamesh on him! A truly amazing level.

And this could also be the letter Samech of this month. What is Samech? David HaMelech tells us in Ashrei that Samech is Somech Hashem L’Chol HaNoflim. Hashem supports all those who fall. Nefilah throughout scripture is a terminology used for falling asleep. For even now, in the night of the year God empowers us to be the candle in the darkness.

And perhaps this is also the Sulam, the ladder in the prophecy of Yaakov. The Passuk tells us that it was rooted in the ground, but reaching heavenward. And this is truly the life of every person. With our base in physicality we are always trying to connect to higher and higher places.

Life is so deep. Hashem is constantly sending me messages, sometimes subtle and sometime blatant. And all He wants is for me is to open up and little by little make myself more spiritually sensitive. Little by little to contemplate my surroundings and just ask, ‘What does Hashem want from me right now?’ Everything we mentioned above? This is how starts. A slight tweak in perspective that depth is attainable on all levels of life – this is how we, step by step bring ourselves to the level of Yaakov Avinu. Just by opening up my mind to the thought that physicality is meaningful is the biggest switch in perspective. Life is as meaningful as we choose to make it. With our entrance into the darkness of the year, we should take Yaakov’s message of Ki Ner Mitzvah V’Torah Ohr to heart.

If we can do this, there is no doubt that we will live lives of Simcha and Shleimus moving closer to HaKadosh Baruch Hu and ultimately the Geula Sheleimah!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Toldos: The Only thing To Fear Is Fear Itself

The most implicit theme of any given Parsha is revealed to us through it’s name. The title of the Parsha is the common denominator that ties all of it’s various components together.

With this in mind, what is the meaning behind the name of this week’s Parsha, Toldos? The word ‘Toldos’ is translated as ‘Offspring’, ‘Legacy’ or ‘Life Story’. The obvious logical conclusion would be that this week we should see the unique narrative of Yitzchak Avinu play out. The problem is that the total opposite seems to be true. Let’s explore.

The first Passuk reads, “V’Eileh Toldos Yiztchak Ben Avraham, Avraham Holid Es Yitzchak.” – ‘And these are the offspring of Yitzchak the son of Avraham, Avraham gave birth to Yitzchak.’

A person’s legacy is what he brings into the world, not that which came before him. If this is so, why in the very first verse, when introducing the concept of Yitzchak’s legacy, do we backtrack and start the whole thing off by saying who his father was?! That’s not his legacy, that’s not his mark on the world - that’s his prequel! Why are we starting his legacy by telling us who is father was? Let’s get to his kids were!

This question permeates the entirety of Yitzchak’s recorded life. On almost every level, Yitzchak’s experiences in the Torah are clear re-enactments of stories we read about Avraham.

We find out that Yitzchak’s wife was barren, as was Avraham’s. Two distinctly different children eventually are born, just like we saw by Avraham. A famine strikes and forces Yitzchak to leave his home, just like Avraham had to. Upon arriving at the new, safer Gerar Yitzchak attempts to save his own life by convincing the locals that his wife is really his sister. He is eventually found out, and subsequently leaves, becoming tremendously rich in the process – a story that happens twice with Avraham once in Mitzrayim and once in Gerar. Avraham digs wells, which are subsequently covered by the Plishtim and then re-dug by none other than Yitzchak, who calls them by the same names that Avraham did. They both feud with local shepherds. They both make treaties with Avimelech, and they both receive almost identical blessings from God.

This is the Toldos of Yitzchak Avinu? This is his great legacy? It seems as if his life is a re-run.

In order to answer our question we to take a detour and analyze some other themes.

In his discovery of Hashem, Avraham becomes the first Kiruv-success story. He’s the first Ba’al Teshuva, the first ‘flip-out.’ Therefore, we learn from Avraham all the lessons we need to know about getting started in Avodas Hashem. It’s explained that Avraham’s attribute was Chessed, which means loving-kindness, the extension of one’s self. Joy and colorful self-expression was the mode of his closeness to God. He built a warm, loving relationship with the Creator.

And this is how we see all Ba’alei Teshuva pitches work. A warm Shabbos table, good singing, excited prayers, a meaningful Havdalah and inspiring moments and are all necessary ingredients in attracting Jews to come closer to their heritage. All beginnings in Avodas Hashem start with this Ahavas Hashem. ‘Judaism is fun, this lifestyle will make you truly happy, etc.’, are the type of things that need to be said to start anyone on the path of closeness to Hashem. We learn this from Avraham.

But there is a second side of the coin, the attribute of Yitzchak: Yiras Hashem - Fear of God. This subject is spoken about much less. It’s more taboo to speak about fear as a positive trait. No one likes to be afraid. It sometimes seems that in some cultures Ahavas Hashem is put on a pedestal and Yiras Hashem is put in the corner. No motivational Kiruv speech revolves around the topics of trepidation andhell.

The consequences of this imbalance can be destructive. While Ahavas Hashem can inspire me to have a profoundly moving prayer, if I’m buddies with God, then maybe He won’t care if I rush through a different prayer tomorrow. If my entire Judaism revolves around Ahavas Hashem alone, then I’ll have rousing moments, but I’ll also find excuses to cut corners; because after all, I can get away with it – me and God are cool.

Ahavas Hashem is a beautiful start, but it is not enough on it’s own.

Perhaps we can make Yiras Hashem more approachable through the following explanation: The Zohar brings down that true Ahavas Hashem produces Yiras Hashem. Why? The answer comes through a close understanding of the nature of fear.

Fear means I’m insecure about losing something. Stage fright is panic of losing one’s dignity. A fear of heights is rooted in the desire not to splatter on the ground below and lose health. A fear of the dark is an insecurity rooted in losing control.

It’s true, walking around in dread and apprehension of incoming lightning bolts is not a pleasant existence, but it is also not the Yiras Hashem that Judaism believes in. As we explained before, my Yiras Hashem, like my Yirah of anything has to be a fear of losing something. This becomes very well understood in the light of the Zohar that we mentioned that Yirah is an outgrowth of Ahavah not merely an entity of its own.

So what am I afraid of losing? After I build a warm relationship with HaKadosh Baruch Hu I’m going to be walking on eggshells trying to maintain that level! I’m afraid of losing that warmth! Therefore, on the exterior level I look like I’m still holding by pure Ahavah, my Tefilos are excited, my learning is more intense, I’m simply more joyous, but now that I feel a certain inner Yirah of losing it, the whole Avodah of Ahavah becomes deeper and a level more real.

The Sfas Emes explains that this concept is the inner meaning of Avraham Holid Es Yitzchak. Avraham’s attribute of Ahavah ‘gave birth to’ and produced Yitzchak’s attribute of Yirah. And this is Yitzchak’s whole life. He is going through every Avodah that Avraham did, but now he is doing them with one more level of Kavanah deeper.

This is Yitzchak’s Midah of Gevurah. Gevurah is my ability to withhold, to grip tightly to my current position. And this is the Toldos, the legacy of Yitzchak. The fact that the verses show that he carries out the same actions as Avraham shows not only that he is doing them, but that he is doing them with this deepened understanding.

We don’t need to be afraid of Yiras Hashem. Yiras Hashem doesn’t mean that I’m buckling at the knees out of terror. I’m not walking around afraid that some Grand Puppet Master is going to smite me. Yiras Hashem means I’m constantly trying my very best to hold onto every achievement I have.

We should be Zoche to both of these levels. We should have inspiring moments and also have the dedication to engrain them into ourselves. We should be meritorious enough to feel both Ahavah and Yirah. If we can do this there is no doubt that we will live full, balanced lives, moving closer to HaKadosh Baruch Hu and ultimately the Geulah!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Chayei Sarah: Make It Or Break It 2 - Further Down The Path

This essay is very much a sequel to the essay for Parshas Noach. Some of the ideas herein have been adapted from the Shiurim of Rav Sitorsky Shlit”a. His website is

This week’s Parsha begins by telling us about Sarah Imeinu’s death, and it does so in an interesting way. The first verse begins, “VaYihiyu Chayei Sarah” – ‘This was Sarah’s lifetime’; following this introduction there is a record of years, “One hundred years, twenty years, seventy years’”– and then the Passuk repeats itself, “Shnei Chayei Sarah” – The years of Sarah’s life.

The Ba’al HaTurim points out a beautiful nuance in the language of the Passuk. As we said above, the words Shnei Chayei Sarah mean ‘The years of Sarah’s life”, but the word ‘Shnei’ doesn’t just mean ‘years of’, it also means ‘two.’ Says the Ba’al HaTurim the verse can be also be telling us that Sarah had two aspects to her life.

As we know, HaKriya Meoreres Es HaZeman - there is always a connection between the Parsha being read and the time in which we are in. So therefore the concepts that are introduced to us in this Parsha have to be perceived within through the lens of our location in the cycle of the year. Where these two layers of season and scripture overlap we will encounter even more, interesting paradoxes.

The Parsha begins with the aforementioned theme of duality and carries it through all the way to the end. For example, we see Eliezer go find a wife for Yitzchak, and that story is told… twice. And at the end of the Parsha, Avraham marries a woman named Keturah, who Chazal tell us was really Hagar, in essence making this Avraham’s second marriage to the same woman.

We can begin to connect the season to the themes in the Parsha with short analysis of Avraham Avinu’s purchase of the Ma’aras HaMachpelah, the double-decker cave, which within its graves holds the Zugos, the pairs (Avraham and Sarah, Yitzchak and Rivka etc…).

A friend pointed out that this meshes perfectly with our month. Our month is called MarCheshvan - the bitter Cheshvan. Rav Shlomo Carlebach famously said that the first two letters of MarCheshvan can be flipped around to spell RamCheshvan - the highest Cheshvan (diametrically opposed to the classic reading). This idea can be found in the word Ma’aras, a word that only appears in this week’s Parsha. The letters of Ma’aras can either spell Eis Ram or Eis Mar - The Highest Time or a Bitter Time. The duality of the cave hints to the duality of the month: Highest or Lowest.

Our main analysis is the connection between the month of Cheshvan and the city of Chevron which is introduced to us for the first time this week. On the one hand, Cheshvan is the month in which Malchus Beis David split. And by a similar token, in this week’s Haftarah we see David HaMelech’s reign begin to come to a close.

Conversely, in this week’s Parsha we are introduced to Chevron where Malchus Beis David started (David reigned there for the first seven years of his rule). And the Midrash tells us that in the end of days Malchus Beis David will reach it’s Tikun, it’s rectification this month because the third Beis HaMikdash will have its Chanukas HaBayis, it’s inauguration ceremony in Cheshvan. Deeply negative themes on one side, thoroughly positive themes on the other.

This double-nature extends into the personality of Chevron in that it goes by two names: “Kiryas Arba, Hi Chevron.” Kiryas Arba is the dual-identity of Chevron, and Kiryas Arba has two paradoxical explanations as to the nature of it’s name.

Kiryas Arba is introduced to us as the place of Sarah’s death. The Sfarim bring down that the words Kiryas Arba can be read Kriyas Arba, ‘The Reading of Four’; a reference to the four words which ended Sarah’s life.

The Binyan David explains the exegesis of Kiryas Arba towards the negative. The four words that “ended” Sarah’s life were read last week when she said “Umnam Eileid, Va’Ani Zakanti!” ‘Is it true that I shall have a child? But I am (too) old!’ These four words; says the Binyan David, displayed a speck of a lack of faith in Hashem, and thus they were the catalyst of her death.

There is a diversely contrasting explanation brought by the Zohar. It says there that the final four words off of Sarah Imeinu’s lips were “Hashem Elokeinu, Hashem Echad” God is One. In a totally different approach, the Zohar is telling us that it was not a lack of faith that prompted Sarah’s death rather the Kriyas Arba is a praise of her trust in Him, even down to the last second.

Again we see that Chevron pulls us in two opposite directions.

Kiryas Arba has another two sided interpretation. The words Kiryas Arba can be rearranged into ‘Yiras Akrav’, Fear of the Scorpion. What scorpion are we afraid of? The constellation of Cheshvan, which is the scorpion. Why are we afraid? The scorpion is a dangerous animal. It poisons us and freezes our nerves. Cheshvan, with its lack of Chagim and entrance into the depth of winter has a similar potential to take away our spirituality.

But the Bnei Yissachar points out an interesting nuance. There is a concept in Kabalistic etymology called Milui. This means that letters can be taken and elongated into the letters used to spell that letter (Alef for example, would become Alef, Lamed, Peih. Daled would become Daled, Lamed, Taf). Says the Bnei Yissachar, the word Akrav, with the last letter, Beis, spelled with a Milui would be Ikar Bayis (The Milui of Beis is Beis, Yud, Taf which spell Bayis), which means ‘The main house.’ What is the main house? Like we mentioned before, the Ikar Bayis is the third Beis HaMikdash which is dedicated in this month. So instead of rearranging Kiryas Arba into Yiras Akrav, it can be read Ri’iyas Ikar Bayis, ‘The sight of the Third Bies HaMikdash.’ Beautiful.

There is one more two-dimensional analysis that should be addressed, this one being the word Chevron. The word Chevron spells Chibur Nun, ‘Connection to the Nun.’ Every month has a letter that is rooted in the very essence of the month, and Cheshvan’s letter is Nun. Therefore, Chevron, which enters into our consciousness for the first time in this week’s Parsha, is telling us to connect to essence of Nun and therefore the essence of Cheshvan.

But what is Nun all about? It is here that our paradox arises. On the on the one hand, we are told in the Gemara that Dovid HaMelech left out Nun from Ashrei (there is one Passuk for every letter with the exception of Nun) because the letter Nun brings one to think about Nefilah – falling. So on one side the Chibur Nun is drawing us to a very negative place. The Nun of Cheshvan is informing us of the potential to drop in spirituality.

Conversely, in Osios D’Rebbe Akiva, the Tana tells us that the letter Nun is the letter of ‘Neshama’, of reaching one’s inner fundamental nature, of achieving real growth. So in the Chibur Nun can be pulling us in the totally opposite direction. In a month with zero distraction, we have the ability to work on very practical self-improvement.

All of these two-way interpretations are letting us in on the very nature of Cheshvan. It’s right now that we will define if we will have an amazing year, or Chas V’Shalom, a less than amazing year. Right now, in this month, Hashem leaves it up to us to determine how much work we will put in without any outside aid, and the results are dramatic. Cheshvan can become a month that is Mar, bitter. We can break away from the kingship of Am Yisrael, we can lose direction. We can have a Kriyas Arba with a lack of Emunah. We can succumb to the Yiras Akrav, and Chas V’Shalom
Chas V’Shalom Chas V’Shalom
we can connect to the Nun of Nefilah.

But we can see this month in a completely different light. This is the month where now, on a very real level connect to path of Geulah and the final Beis HaMikdash with Ri’iyas Ikar Bayis. This can be a month that it is Ram, higher than anything. Like Sarah Imeinu did, we can attach our whole being to Hashem Elokeinu Hashem Echad. This is month where we can get in touch with out Neshama.

The challenge of Cheshvan is really the challenge of life as a whole. How we deal with the situations we are presented with is the essence of free will. The challenges that come our way are outside our control, but Hashem leaves it up to us as to how we will deal with those unexpected curveballs that life throws in our direction. We can bail out and succumb to the difficulties and challenges of life, or we can rise to the occasion. Every time we make an optimistic decision, every constructive step we take, every positive reaction, puts our whole life in a more positive light. Every fork in the road, every duality is a make-it-or-break-it situation. A positive move, any form of progress, get me moving in the direction I need to make my whole life more infused with Kirvas Elokim.

We should be Zocheh to always be able to approach our challenges confidently and with optimism. If we can do this, there is no doubt that we will live lives of Simcha and Shleimus moving closer to HaKadosh Baruch Hu and ultimately Ri’iyas Ikar Bayis!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Vayeira: Opportunity Knocks

Last week, inParshas Lech Lecha we read how things go very well for Avraham Avinu. He receives his first prophecy, enters into the land of Israel, he is triumphant in battle and passes a series difficult tests. Through all of these stages he attains higher and higher levels of Kedusha, he becomes closer and closer to HaKadosh Baruch Hu. But the Parsha ends with one more painful and demanding trial: To perform a Bris Milah on himself, which he does.

But this ritual circumcision has its consequences. Avraham experiences excruciating pain as a result of it. It was for this reason Hashem wanted Avraham to rest and recover. Hashem knew that Avraham would still go out and try to grow, continue attempting to do Mitzvos, even in face of the pain. So Hashem commanded the sun to beat down unbearable heat so that maybe Avraham would be convinced to go inside and rest up.

V’Hu Yoshev B’Pesach HaOhel K’Chom HaYom” – Avraham was sitting by the door of his tent in the heat of the day. He was on the lookout for Mitzvos.

But as we see from this Passuk, that this ploy didn’t work. Avraham sat, eyes pealed, looking for an opportunity, any opportunity, to fulfill the will of Hashem.

We need to ask ourselves an important question: How did Avraham do it? How did he feel this way? After all the growth that our forefather experienced in last week’s Parsha he was still not satisfied, he needed to get out there and keep working, to keep striving, to keep growing – even after all his achievements and in the face of all the pain. What was his inspiration?

The answer is all about doors. Let’s analyze.

The Passuk in Mishlei says, “Ashrei Adam Shomea Li, L’Shkod Al Dalisosai Yom Yom” – Hashem says ‘Praised is the man who … hastens to my doors everyday.’ There are many explanations as to what these doors are. On some level the plural doors mean, ‘Deles She’Ba’Deles’ a door within a door. A door is a threshold, and when I pass through it I enter into a totally new domain. Every stage of growth that we undergo is a ‘door’ of sorts; it’s a transition from one spiritual level to another. But as soon as I pass through one echelon, when I make any achievement in my Avodas Hashem, there is another ‘door’ right there waiting for me. This is the ‘Deles She’Ba’Deles.

A door signifies a start, and if I’m always at the door, I’m always just starting. There is nothing more exciting, nothing more inspiring than a fresh start. There is an undeniable Geshmak of kicking off a new project. And if I’m always in a state of ‘just starting’ then the freshness and stimulation that I need will be ever-present.

This connects very deeply to a beautiful teaching of the Noam Elimelech (Reb Elimelech of Lizhensk, the first Chasidic Rebbe). He gives us an incredible understanding of two seemingly cryptic verses.

David HaMelech writes in Tehilim, “Pischu Li Sha’arei Tzedek, Avo Vam Odeh Kah. Zeh HaSha’ar La’Hashem Tzadikim Yavou Bo.” – “Open for me the gates of the righteous, so that I may enter them and thank Hashem. This is the gate to Hashem, it is the righteous who pass through it.”

The first verse takes the standpoint of the questioner, he who requests that the Gates that lead to closeness to God be opened for him. The second verse is the responding to the request by saying, ‘Here it is’ - Zeh HaSha’ar LaHashem.

Wait, what? David HaMelech is surely aware that this is text and verse and therefore we cannot see the Sha’ar LaHashem just by saying ‘Here it is.’ So what’s going on here?

The first verse is the request of every one of us at those special times when we see to grow. We say to Hashem, “I want to be a Tzadik. I want all the good character traits. I want to know the Torah. I want to feel close to you. I want to feel you in everything I do. I want Ruach HaKodesh. I want to grow. The thing is, I don’t even know where to start! I want to be the best I can be, I really do, but how? Please, Pischu Li Sha’arei Tzedek. Help me attain a new level, open a new door for me, I promise I wont let you down. If you just open up the gates, I’ll come running in.”

And Hashem responds ZehHaSha’ar LaHashem. THAT’S IT! That’s exactly the way in. By wanting it, by having the desire, by lighting yourself up you have created for yourself, and entered into the Sha’ar LaHashem. Your desire to attain greater levels in Avodas Hashem is the entranceway itself! You’ve just crossed the threshold into the most important door of all.

What is the Sha’ar LaHashem? He who says Pischu Li. Beautiful.

This is really an expression of a line in the Zohar based on another verse in Mishlei. The verse says (we read it in Eishes Chayil every week) about the ideal spouse, “Nodah B’Shi’arim Ba’alah” – ‘The perfect wife has a husband who is known in the gates.’ The depth of the verse is that the ‘wife’ is the Jewish people and the ‘Husband’ is Hashem.

What is the meaning of Hashem being known in the gates, in the Shi’arim? Says the Zohar, the word Shi’arim here is really a manifestation of ‘Shiurim’ which means ‘amounts’. And so when the Passuk says, Noda B’Shi’arim Ba’alah, that Hashem is known in the gates, it means, “K’Phum Shiruin D’Liba” - According to the amount that the Heart provides.

A simple desire to grow is the most important stage of growth. In as much as I open up space in my heart, that is how much I will be able to bring God into my life. And so once again we see, what is the door to Knowledge of God? My desire to attain it.

But now; with the help of the Sfas Emes, we turn back to Avraham, “V’Hu Yoshev B’Pesach HaOhel ” – And he was sitting by the opening to his tent.

All of what we have said is exactly what Avraham Avinu is doing. Even after he experiences an amazing Parshas Lech Lecha he still feels like he is just starting, he is sitting at the edge of yet another door! “L’Shkod Al Dalisosai Yom Yom!” “Pischu Li Sha’arei Tzedek!” “K’Phum Shiruin D’Liba!”

With an attitude like that it’s clear how even after such amazing growth, and in the face of so much pain he still is on the lookout for even more Mitzvos. Because Avraham Avinu feels that freshness, he is touch with the inspiration that is intrinsic to a mindset which is geared towards growth.

This is an amazing level, but it is not out of my reach. All I need to do is realize that the most important stage in my religious growth is the desire to grow itself. Once I start to really want it, I’ve just found the Sha’ar LaHashem. Why? Because I built it for myself. And now I see that it all starts with feeling like I’m at Pesach HaOhel, by asking Pischu Li Sha’arei Tzedek.

B’Ezras Hashem we should be Zocheh to such an inspiring mindset. For when I know that the most important stage in my growth is my desire do to so, then the success already in my hand. If we can do this, there is no doubt that we will live lives of Simcha and Shleimus, moving closer to the creator and ultimately the Geulah!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Lech Lecha: Stepping It Up A Notch

In this week’s Parsha we encounter the first Jew. Avraham Avinu appears on the scene and is commanded by God to leave his whole life behind and embark on a journey to some mysterious and undisclosed location… “The which I will show you.”

We need to ask a few questions about Avraham. First we need to consider Avraham’s background. We know that he is the theological originator of monotheism, but how did he arrive at this history altering philosophical conclusion? Secondly, we need to consider why this information is totally left out of the Torah. By Noach the Torah gives us an introductory verse telling us about Noach’s virtue. Only after such an introduction do we begin to discuss how he spoke with HaKadosh Baruch Hu. We don’t see any such preface to Avraham’s first prophetical experience, it seems that he shows up un-announced! Why does the Torah leave out this background?

We can theorize the following claim: After understanding more about the nature of Avraham’s path to monotheism and God’s response to it, the answer as to why the Torah leaves out the information of his journey will become self-evident. Let’s explore.

In the world that we live in, where all the “Isms” have fallen apart (communism, capitalism have crumbled and are crumbling respectively, and the main driving force of pop-culture is ‘post-modernism’ i.e.: ‘We are over ‘Isms’.) the world has taken a newfound interest as to what is the meaning of life. Avraham embarked on this mission millennia ago and his findings were not much different than what we see today – simply because he laid the foundation for such thinking.

The Mei HaShiloach, Reb Mordechai Yosef of Izhbitz pulls from Midrashic literature the following train of thought that Avraham had. “What is life? Is my life the things that I own? My possessions: my car, house, fridge, mattress, and clothing – they all serve a purpose. The purpose is very simple; my day-to-day experience would be far less comfortable without them! I want to get around. I want to stay out of the rain. I want my food to be fresh and my back not to hurt when I wake up in the morning. So what emerges is that the accumulation of my possessions are there to make life easier, to smooth out the bumps along the way – but at the end of the day, when I have all the inconveniences dealt with, when all my difficulties are taken care of – what is life itself? Great, so I removed all the annoyances, but what’s left now? Am I simply living just for the sake of overcoming day-in-day-out hassles? It simply can’t be.”

The Sfas Emes and Chidushei HaRim explain the next step in Avraham’s search. After realizing the world is more meaningful than shallow materialism (just another ‘Ism’) Avraham began to look at nature. “Look at the array of landscapes, the cycle seasons, the fine details of the animal kingdom. Look at my body, how it works, how it heals… There needs to be a Designer.”

The Midrash describes an allegoric representation of Avraham’s search for meaning in the following way. A man was once walking in the street, and as usual, all those who passed by looked totally calm. Business as usual. But he noticed that on the very same street where the masses were totally calm, there was a large tower absolutely engulfed in flames - a Bira Dolakas in the language of the Midrash. How did no one notice? Where was the owner? Not a moment had passed after this thought when a man pats our observer on the shoulder and says, “I own this building.”

The Midrash explains the parable: The man in the story is Avraham. And the burning building is the world. Avraham was born into the generation that tried to wage war on God. He was born into a society deeply trenched in self-indulgence and idol worship. The world looked as if it was on fire. “Who is running this crazy show?” Only Avraham took the time to notice, and it is for this reason that the ‘Owner of the building’ – eventually revealed Himself to Avraham.

Thus it was ‘burning building’ that is this world that Avraham chose to ponder next. The term from the Midrash for ‘burning’ is Dolakas. But as we see from Parshas VaYeitzei, the root Dalak can also mean chase, as in the verse (31:36) Dalakta Acharai, ‘You chased after me.’ Avraham saw that on the surface the world looked ablaze, but on a deeper level the world was moving purposefully to an end-goal, and for such meaning to be present in history a Conductor must be involved.

So after much contemplation on the purposelessness of a life that is merely physical, and after pondering on the intrinsic depth of nature and history, Avraham arrived at a conclusion that changed everything forever - Monotheism. There must be one Unifying Force that is making everything work. Because even though on the surface, the world is a mess, a more penetrating eye picks up on the unity. But where does that come from? There must be a God.

But he didn’t stop there. He shared this with everyone. He went around telling everyone about this new innovative concept called ‘Hashem Echad’. “There is but One God! And guess what? He’s running everything!” And people believed him. Avraham amassed for himself a huge following of monotheists.

And after decades of spreading the good word of Hashem Echad, God finally reaches out to Avraham, “Lech Lecha” – as it is often translated to mean – Go, not only for yourself, but more importantly to yourself.

What is being said here? When Hashem says Lech Lecha - Go to yourself, He says to Avraham “It’s time to become who you are truly meant to be, to take up your true post, not as the preacher to the masses, but rather as the beginning of the Jews.”

With this short interaction with Avraham, Hashem changes everything. Hashem is saying, “Avraham, what you’ve done until now is great, you’ve introduced monotheism on the level of natural speculation – beautiful, good job. But now your role is not spreading monotheism to the people of the world, your job is to start up the Am HaNivchar, the chosen people.”

It’s an undeniable fact. Avraham changed the course of history. Due to him, today there are countless Goyim who hold to monotheistic doctrines. That’s all to the credit of Avraham Avinu. But there is a major difference between the way that Goy relates to God and a Jew relates to Hashem. A Goy with a brain will tell you that the world around him screams meaning and purpose – history is moving to a rhythm, life progresses in a meaningful way, nature is too exact to just be a random biological jumble - there must be a God.

With this we can answer our final question. The reason that the introduction of Avraham’s personal history is not mentioned in the Torah is because all that he accomplished before Hashem says Lech Lecha is relevant to all nations of the world. But as Jews we don’t relate to Avraham in the way he preached to the idol-worshiping world – we relate to him as the first Jew. And it is only with the words “Lech Lecha” that this message beings. So all of Avraham’s personal history up until “Lech Lecha” is not relevant for the life of a Jew, and thus it’s not recorded! Let’s explain.

Hashem says, Lech Lecha ‘Go to yourself.’ You can attain a totally different level of Emunah in HaKadosh Baruch Hu, an Emunah not based on the world around you, but stemming from within yourself. The question is: How is this done?

Hashem says in Bereishis, “Na’aseh Adam B’Tzalmeinu”And God said, “Let us make man in Our Image.” Adam, says the Kol Simcha comes from the term in Yeshayahu, “Adameh L’Elyon” - I will make myself like the Most High (like God). The Sfas Emes extends this to the adage from Pirkei Avos, “Da Mah L’Ma’alah, Mimcha” – Know that which is above you. The word ‘Mimcha’ means ‘from you’ – this renders the literal translation of the saying to be ‘Know that which is above from you.’ But the teaching can be read alternatively. ‘Da Mah L’Ma’alah’, Know that which is above. And from where will you learn it? ‘Mimcha!’ Come to know that which is above you, from yourself!

A Jew must always know that built into the very nature of his being is a Tzelem Elokim, a way of relating to the Divine above the corporeal and physical.

A simple contemplation of nature should be enough for a Goy, but not for a Jew. We have Neshamos, and with these powerhouses of spiritual capabilities we can latch on to Hashem in a way that is far deeper than mere speculation of the natural world and history. We learn the Torah! We have Mitzvos and Tefilah! This separates us from the rest of the world!

When Hashem says “Lech Lecha” He says to Avraham, ‘Go to who you really are. Begin serving Me the way a Jew does. Take advantage of the fact that I am empowering you and your descendants to be totally unique.

Hashem has given us the unbelievably gift of being the chosen people. WE ARE JEWS! We are raised up above the rest of the world and are empowered to bring the universe to its ultimate perfection. Hashem has a job for every single one us – our personal way of making the world a better place to live. And therefore that strength to connect to Hashem, that strength to be a monotheist is totally different as a Jew. Before Avraham is spoken to by God, he’s just a guy preaching Goyish-monotheology. But when Hashem says, ‘Now go become who you truly are.’ – the stage is set for the chosen nation to be totally different.

It’s not easy, but B’Ezras Hashem we should be Zocheh to actualize the potential that sets us apart as the unique breed in all of existence. It is only when we truly realize that we are different that we can begin to act different. If we can do this, there is no doubt that we will live lives of Simcha and fullfillment, bringing ourselves closer to HaKadosh Barcuh Hu and ultimately the Geulah!