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!

Friday, October 8, 2010

Noach/Cheshvan: Making the most of it

This week we leave the action-packed month of Tishrei and we enter into what is seemingly the dead-beat, boring month of MarCheshvan. The month itself has the word Mar in it, a word that means bitter; for in contrast to the exciting month of Tishrei, MarCheshvan seems to leave a bad taste in our mouths. MarCheshvan is described in Tanach as the Yerach Bul, the Month of Decay, a fitting description seeing as this is the month where the trees begin to rot, the fields are empty, and the potential to fall in spirituality becomes a very real threat due to the lack of Chagim.

The Torah tells us that it is in this month that the destructive waters of the Mabul – the flood – began to cleanse the world. Rashi says that the word Mabul means She’Bila Es HaKol - it decayed everything. This is where the term Mabul itself comes from. Mabul is comprised of the letters which spell out the letter Mem, and the word Bul. Mem has the numerical value of forty, and we’ve already defined Bul to be the month of Cheshvan, where things rot. Forty days of rain starting in the month of Cheshvan.

All in all, through this lens, Cheshvan comes with negative themes.

But we can see Cheshvan with different eyes. In the eyes of Chazal, MarCheshvan is the make-it-or-break-it month. It’s the time where we see if what we accomplished in Elul and Tishrei was for real. In the words of Rav Hutner Zatza’l, MarCheshvan is where the crutches come off, and Hashem sees if we can do it on our own.

The Bluzhiver Rebbe (The grandson of the holy Bnei Yissachar and great-great-grandson of the renown Noam Elimelech) in his Tzvi LaTzadik said that the letters that make up ‘MarCheshvan’ can be rearranged to spell out the term ‘Roshem Nun Ches’ – “The Mark of the Nun Ches.”

The mark of the Nun Ches has two possible meanings. First, the numerical value of Nun Ches is fifty-eight, the amount of days in Elul and Tishrei. MarCheshvan is where we see if the fifty-eight days of growth had a lasting impression on our lives.

The letters Nun Ches also spell Noach, the main character of this week’s Parsha. Parshas Noach is the Parsha of this month, for it is always the first Parsha that we read. Roshem Nun Ches also means that MarCheshvan is the month where we need to take head from the lesson of Noach.

This is allegorical understanding of the beginning of our Parsha. Eileh Toldos Noach – These are the offspring of Noach. The simple meaning is that the things that the verse will list are the products of Noach. But another reading could be that Parshas Noach, the headline of Chodesh Cheshvan, it is the product of the Nun Ches, the fifty-eight days of Elul and Tishrei. Eileh Toldos Noach – The energy of MarCheshvan has to be just as high as it was just a few days ago.

After Adam HaRishon sins, the world falls into a downward spiral. For ten consecutive generations things get worse and worse until finally Hashem decides to clean house, wipe everything off the face of the earth and start again with Noach.

In this sense, Noach is very much the second Adam HaRishon. He is the one who Hashem decided to start off humanity with – albeit for the second time.

Hashem says to Noach, “Bo El HaTeiva.” It’s time to get inside the ark. The waters begin to fall, and as we explained above, they did so; fittingly in the month of Cheshvan. For the next full year Noach doesn’t see the outside world. He lives an existence that sounds reminiscent of the days of Mashiach. The animals get along. The laws of nature seem to bend. And even as the world outside is shattered, inside the Teiva, life is good.

And finally Hashem sends forth the new command – also in the month of Cheshvan, “Tzei Min HaTeiva”, it’s time to go back out into the world.

Imagine Noach’s scenario for a moment. Reluctantly he leaves the Teiva. What does he see? No vegetation. He stands, and for as far as his eyes can see there is mud. The world looks broken and dead. No wildlife – of course with the exception of a very disoriented zoo of animals at his back. A bleak situation to say the very least.

But what does Noach decide to do? “Okay then. Thank You God for letting me get through this… Let’s get to work.” And although he was not perfect, he wasted no time. Family building and agriculture were on the top of his priority list.

We learn a very important lesson here. This is the Roshem Nun Ches, the lesson of Noach. What we see is that even when the world seems empty – as the month of MarCheshvan very much does – it specifically at those times where God expects from us to turn up the energy. It’s true the world looks unwelcoming, but it’s particularly in this month where we can show ourselves what we’re really made of

Bo El HaTeiva – the command to enter the ark – that’s Elul and Tishrei. We enter into an amazing spiritual marathon. We turn our backs on all the materialism and we focus – as we should – on the divine. Who’s not feel it during those months?! But Hashem also says, Tzei Min HaTeiva – go out into the empty world of Cheshvan and make the most of it. This is your proving ground.

This theme even plays into the constellation. We know that every month is connected to a zodiac constellation – a Mazal. The constellation of MarCheshvan is the Akrav, the scorpion. The scorpion is poisonous, it’s an impure animal – all in all, we don’t like scorpions.

But where does the scorpion make its home? The desert. The desert is barren, empty, and desolate. Very much like the world that Noach entered and very much like the month of Cheshvan. But it is specifically there that the scorpion thrives. Hashem is saying to us, “Do you see a desert-like month ahead of you? Then know that I believe that you can thrive like a scorpion.”

On a more esoteric level, the Sefer Yetzira tells us that every month is spiritually governed by a certain letter in the Hebrew alpha-bet. The letter of our month is Nun. We are told in the Gemara that Dovid HaMelech left our 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. If Nun is the letter of falling, then so too we understand that Yerach Bul, the month that has Nun hanging above it, is the month of falling. The natural world is falling apart, and people – God forbid – may fall spiritually due to the lack of excitement.

But where is the positive spin that we’ve seen up until this point? The answer is found at the end of our Parsha. Some prints Chumashim have the tradition that the final letter of Parshas Noach is backwards (Rashi comments that he had this tradition). And what is the last letter in this week’s Parsha?


What does this mean? Perhaps we can suggest the following: Yes, it’s true. On the surface level, MarCheshvan is the month where one may fall. Without thinking one can become susceptible to the Nefilah of Yerach Bul. But if a person goes through the entire story of Noach and lets himself internalize this lesson; then through this Roshem of Nun Ches, he can turn that Nun upside-down!

Please Hashem, help me have the strength to make the most of this month. I know it’s hard, but I also know that you have engrained inside of me the power to make the most of any situation. Please help me awaken and tap into that place inside me – only with your help will by able to achieve as much as a I can in this upcoming months.

If we can internalize this message, then we will access the our inner tools to be able to thrive under any circumstances – to make the most of the world around me no matter how gloomy it looks. Reb Shlomo Carlebach always said that the term MarCheshvan which means the Bitter Cheshvan can be flipped around to spell RamCheshvan - the Highest Cheshvan.

B’Ezras Hashem we should be Zocheh to live with this, for if we can there is no doubt we will live lives of Simcha and fulfillment, moving closer to HaKadosh Baruch Hu, and ultimately the Geulah!