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!