Friday, April 29, 2011

Kedoshim: Help Me Help You

The following is based on the Sfas Emes and Reb Tzadok HaKohen. Please feel free to print this out and read it over Shabbos, just not during Tefilos! :)

This week’s Parsha, Parshas Kedoshim deals with an array of Mitzvos Bein Adam L’Chaveiro - Commandments which apply between man and his neighbor, the regulations of interpersonal relationships. Honest business, honoring one’s parents, being kind to the disabled and generous to the poor; and most famously V’Ahavta L’Reiacha Kamocha, love your fellow as you love yourself – among many other similarly categorized Mitzvos are mentioned.

Chazal tell us that Moshe Rabbeinu conducted a Hakel - a mass gathering of all the Jew, to teach, of all things, Parshas Kedoshim. When we have all the Jews together, why read this? When we have the attention of all the Jewish people, we tell them to be nice? Why couldn’t he just write it down like any other part of the Torah? To answer this question we need to ask another, and get deeper into what is Kedoshim really all about.

Unlike most of the Parsha, the first verse calls for a very general spiritual requirement of every Jew. Kedoshim Tihiyu – Ki Kadosh Ani Hashem Elokeichem - “You shall be holy, for I, Your God am Holy.” But what exactly does this mean?

The Rishonim offer two possibilities, the first, given by Rashi is that in order to be holy we need to distance ourselves from all Aveiros (sins) that have to do with Arayos (prohibited sexuality). To be Kadosh means to elevate above our baser desires to a loftier state of control.

The Ramban offers an alternative understanding. To be holy means not just control ourselves in the realm of that which is not allowed, but it means to become more refined in regards to that which is allowed. For example, there is no prohibition in the Torah against eating Kosher meat and drinking Kosher wine. But that doesn’t mean it is the path of the devout and righteous to gorge on burgers and get trashed all day either – can you picture your favorite Rabbi doing that? Something’s not right. In this view, to be Kadosh means to become diginified, even within what is permitted.

Either way you look at it, Kedoshim Tihiyu is about overcoming the physical as means to achieve more spirituality. Kedoshim teaches us to strive for greater levels of purity. But in this context, this topic is out of place. Let’s explain.

We are taught that titles in Torah-literature carry tremendous significance. The goal of any given title is to encapsulate as much of the content as possible. If this is so, what does Kedoshim’s name have to do with the content of the rest of the Parsha. Bein Adam LeChaveiro is one thing, and my personal Avodas Hashem is another? And even we want to say that they are connected – being as Hashem told us about both – why name a whole Parsha about man and his fellow man after a commandment between man and his Maker?

Perhaps the connection between Bein Adam LeChaveiro and Bein Adam LeMakom is deeper than we thought…

We know that Am Yisrael as a unit achieves a collective Kedusha that is greater than the sum of the maximum potential of each individual. As the Midrash tells us, had one Jew been missing, the Torah would have not been able to be given. Matan Torah (our standing at Mount Sinai) was totally dependant on Achdus (national unity). We needed that one last Jew to push the whole nation over the edge. That’s why the Torah HaKedosha can only be given when Am Yisrael is in a state of K’Ish Echad B’Lev Echad (A whole nation standing unified as a single body with one heart). The word Yisrael is an acronym for the term Yesh Shishim Ruba Osios LaTorah – ‘There are Six Hundred Thousand (root) letter in the makeup of the Torah.’ And while each letter, each verse, each concept carries intrinsic holiness – it’s not considered a valid Torah scroll until every single letter is present. When it comes to the holiness of Jews, as the saying goes: “The total is greater than the sum of the parts.”

Therefore it follows that in as much as a person is connected to the Achdus of Am Yisrael he will be able to achieve higher and higher levels of personal spiritual achievement.

The perfect example is Aharon HaKohen. Aharon, the Kohen Gadol is synonymous for the apex of our discussion, namely Kedusha. He is the only one allowed into, and also synonymous with the Kodesh HaKodashim, the sacred inner sanctum of the Mishkan, the Holy of Holies. And yet, what does Chazal say about him? He was busy all day creating peace in the home. By intensifying his relationship with other Jews, his relationship with God strengthened automatically. The Mishna which tells how to be (in principle) a student of Aharon tells us, to be Ohev Es HaBrios U’MeKarvam LaTorah, ‘Love all the creation and bring them close to the Torah.’

And now we understand the depth of it: only when is via a path of love to all creations can a closeness with the Torah be generated.

With this we also understand the teaching of Chazal that when one is Noach LaBrios (sweet to the creations) it is a sign that he is also Noach L’Boro (sweet in the eyes of his Creator).

The same concept explains the Midrash that tells us how to be like Hashem. The Passuk that we started with tells us, Kedoshim Tihiyu – Ki Kadosh Ani Hashem Elokeichem - “You shall be holy, for I, Your God am Holy.” But what is God’s holiness, and how do we imitate it. With this Chazal say Ma Hu Rachum Af Atah Rachum, Ma Hu Chanun Af Atah Chanun - ‘Just like He is Merciful, so too shall you be merciful. Just as He is Gracious, so too shall you be gracious.’ Merciful and gracious are attributes that fall under the category of Bein Adam LeChaveriro! The Torah is telling us that closeness to God is dependant on closeness to our fellow Jew.

And to drive it home, Rav Moshe Wolfson brings down that the Gematria (numerical value) of the phrase V’Ahavta Es Hashem Elokecha ‘And you shall love Hashem your God’ (511), is the same as Passuk in this week’s Parsha, V’Ahavta L’Reiacha KaMocha Ani Hashem ‘Love your fellow as you love yourself, I am God’ (also 511).

Now we can understand why Kedoshim Tihiyu is read at Hakel, and why a Parsha about Bein Adam LeChaveiro is named after a Mitzvah which is Bein Adam LeMakom.

It’s now clear that the most opportune time to read Kedoshim , to learn about what Rashi and the Ramban said above is when we have all of the Jews in one place. A moment with such an atmosphere of K’Ish Echad is the time that we learn on an intrinsically deeper level about how to be closer to HaKadosh Baruch Hu.

It is only through devotion to Klal Yisrael that a person will succeed as an individual. Many Mitzvos are proceeded with the small prayer entitled L’Sheim Yichud - that they will be accepted and accomplish the various spiritual tasks that they are meant to do. Every L’Sheim Yishud ends the same way, “B’Sheim Kol Yisrael” – and I’m doing this in the name of all Jews. Because when my Mitzvah has the whole Jewish nation standing behind it, it’s infinitely more powerful.

HaKadosh Baruch Hu should give us a Bracha that our hearts are filled with nothing but love for other Jews and the world at large. He should energize us with the excitement that we need to jump at the opportunity to help some out. When we tap into a mindstate the pushes us to connect to other Jews, it will inevitably lead to a stronger connection to Hashem. If we can do this there is ono doubt that we will live lives of Simcha and Shleimus, moving closer to HaKadosh Baruch Hu, and ultimately the Geulah Sheleimah!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Pesach: Lovestory (Shir HaShirim)

The festivals of Succos and Pesach are weeklong festivals whose holiest days are those in the start and end in which Halachic work is altogether forbidden. The intervening days between the beginning and end are called Chol HaMoead.

On the Shabbos Kodesh that falls out during Chol HaMoed Pesach, Chazal instituted that we read Shir HaShirim, the ‘Song of Songs’, which is an intricate – and often explicit – poem, written in the style of the intimate discussions between two lovers as a parable to the deep and emotional relationship shared by God and His people, Am Yisrael.

This begs for analysis. What is the connection – if there even is any – between the holiday of Pesach and Shir HaShirim? The answer can’t simply be, “On Pesach Hashem showed us that He loves us very much.” Such a shallow answer is absurd being as all of the holidays are displays of God’s affection. The giving of the Torah, the Divine Shelter of Succos, the dramatic rescue from Haman’s hands are all very close moments with HaKadosh Baruch Hu. So what makes Pesach specifically connected to the intimacy of Shir HaShirim?

With the guidance of HaRav Yitzchak Hutner Zatz’al, hopefully we will be able to reach the depth of this connection. In order to do so we need to explore both sides of the equation. First we need to analyze what is Chazal’s understanding of the role of Shir HaShirim. Secondly we need to clarify what the goal of the exodus really was. Hopefully from the synthesis of these two answers we will walk away with a deeper appreciation of the matching up of Shir HaShirim with Pesach.

Shlomo HaMelech, King Solomon, - history’s wisest man – authored three books in Tanach, all three were published in his lifetime, one of them being Shir HaShirim. Shlomo HaMelech was also responsible for the construction of the first Beis HaMikdash (the Temple in Jerusalem).

Chazal tell us in Messeches Midos that the whole world was worth creating just for the day on which Shir HaShirim was completed. Why is this piece of information found Messeches Midos? Midos deals with the measurements of the physical structure of Beis HaMikdash - not scripture! The answer given is that Shir HaShirim was presented on the day that construction of the Beis HaMikdash was completed – they were delivered together. And thus the construction goes hand-in-hand with the poem.

The depth of the matter is as follows: The fact that the Shir HaShirim and the Beis HaMikdash arrive simultaneously, is merely a manifestation of the deeper reality that they actually share one root. It therefore emerges that the Beis HaMikdash must be where all of the themes of Shir HaShirim - all of the love, all of the closeness, all of the intimacy is centralized.

It is for this reason that the Kodesh HaKodashim, the inner-most sanctum of the Temple is referred to in scripture as Cheder HaMitos - The Bedroom. And it’s for the same reason that the Kruvim (Cherubs) which were the main visual attraction there - embraced - one another. And perhaps these concepts reach a climax in light of how it is specifically the Beis HaMikdash that Chazal describe as “the place where Heaven and Earth kiss”. The Beis HaMikdash is about an outpouring of love. The Beis HaMikdash embodies the romance of the Jews and HaKadosh Baruch Hu. The Beis HaMikdash is where Shir HaShirim takes on its physical form.

So now we know that the Beis HaMikdash, the Makom of HaShra’as HaShechina (The place where God’s Presence dwells) takes on the identity of Shir HaShirim. But we still need to understand how these concepts relate to Pesach - the holiday of redemption.

The Ramban brings down that the second book of the Torah - Sefer Shemos is also referred to as Sefer HaGeulah: The Book of Redemption. And for good reason too; the first few Parshios deal with God’s redeeming of the Jewish people from Egypt. But this raises a new question. If Shemos is the book that encompasses redemptive themes, then why is it that more Parshios deal with the construction of the Mishkan than those that deal with exodus?

From this question the Ramban lays down a fundamental principle about what it means to be free. Freedom doesn’t simply mean leaving bondage. Exodus to nowhere means being lost. But when we leave oppression and go into service of the Divine – then we can begin to taste real liberty. And therefore, if the Jews were to simply leave Egypt and enter directionless into the desert, we wouldn’t have gotten anywhere productive. It is only because we left Egypt and from there began to build the Mishkan - a Makom of HaShra’as HaShechina that Sefer Shemos can really be Sefer HaGeulah.

With this we can understand the line in the weekly prayer of Lecha Dodi that says Karva El Nafshi Gealah - ‘Come close to my Soul and redeem it’. The Jewish nation doesn’t seek freedom simply by escaping oppression – the collective Jewish soul understands that freedom only comes as a result of a unification with HaKadosh Baruch Hu.

We now understand that Geulah doesn’t simply mean leaving bondage. Geulah means leaving slavery as a means to enter God’s embrace. And any place that serves as a resting place, a point of interaction with the Divine will automatically become a physical embodiment of Shir HaShirim.

If Shir HaShirim is about the inherit romance that comes as a result of interaction with the Divine, and the whole concept of Geulah is meaningless until that interaction occurs - then of course when we celebrate Pesach we also read Shir HaShirim.

The application to my life is clear. If I think I’ll be free simply by doing whatever I want I’m going to quickly find that I’m a slave to many more things that I think. I’ll become a slave to the most popular fad. I’ll become controlled against my will – and perhaps even on a subconscious level – by a band, a magazine, a movie or a Youtube blogger. Simply choosing to do whatever seems good at the time is not freedom – it’s misdirection. The deeper in I go and the more wrapped up I become, the result becomes the shackling of my life to my whims.

Ein L’Cha Ben Chorin Ela Mi She’Osek BaTorah - the only free man is he who is consumed with the will of Hashem. When I make my life a contact point between Heaven and Earth - Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh - the possibility to feel the sweetness of liberation is opened up to me. Only when the goal is Karva El Nafshi will the result be Gealah.

HaKadosh Baruch Hu should give us a Bracha that we see the world for what it is: the backdrop for the greatest lovestory of all time: Between us and Him – the story of Shir HaShirim. If we can live in such a way, if from time to time we can remember that my life is most invigorated at times of closeness with the Divine, then there is no doubt that we will live lives of Sheleimus and Simcha, moving closer to the Creator and ultimately the Geulah Sheleimah!!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Pesach: Frum From Birth? Baal Teshuva? Convert? All of the Above?

As we know, the Seder night is directed by the Hagadah. The Hagadah is a series of texts, arranged by an unknown compiler, and accepted by Am Yisrael as the ‘tourguide’ in our fulfillment of the commandment as obligated by the Torah HaKedosha to tell over the story of the Jewish People’s exodus from their slavery in Mitzrayim, as the Passuk says, “ViHigadita LiBincha BaYom HaHu” – ‘And on that day (meaning the night of the Seder) you shall tell it to your sons.’ The word Hagada comes from the word in this verse, “ViHigadita.” We fulfill this Mitzvah in the section of the Hagadah called Magid - which means ‘Telling” – from the same root.

This is an important introductory point. On these nights of Pesach when we speak about Yetzias Mitzrayim we are performing a full-fledged Mitzvah from the Torah HaKedosha. And therefore we would expect that this Mitzvah operates like all others.

One important facet that applies to virtually all Mitzvos is that we recite a Bracha, a blessing on them. For example, when we blow Shofar, shake the Lulav or put on our Tefilin, we say a Bracha. The common denominator between all of these blessings is that they are recited before the Mitzvah is performed. This is called Over Le’Asiyasan - ‘Preceding the Deed.’ We make the Bracha and only then do we do the Mitzvah.

If what we said is true, that V’Higadita LiBincha, the telling of the Exodus’ story, is a Mitzvah like any other, then it would make sense that it would have a Bracha attached to it. And it does.

The problem is thatMagid’s Brahca - which is a lengthy and dramatic one – appears only after we have completed the Mitzvah, thereby violating the previously stated rule of Over Le’Asiyasan! So what gives? Why by all Mitzvos is the Bracha before, and here, in the case of Magid is the Bracha only recited after?

In order to answer our question we need to delve into three things. First, what is the significance of Pesach-night? What exactly are we celebrating? The second question is, that in light of whatever the first answer is, how does the Mitzvah of Magid serve as the proper vehicle of commemoration? What does Magid do that helps us remember or celebrate that which we are celebrating? And if we combine these two things with a look at another exception to Over Le’Asiyasan, then hopefully everything will come together.

Let’s explore.

The final plague, and thus the apex of what all the plagues came to accomplish was the death of the Bechoros, first-borns of Egypt. On the contrasting background of the death of the Egyptian Bechoros, God showed Bni Bichori Yisrael - ‘ My children, the Jewish People are My first-borns’. When you mess with my Bechoros, I’ll come after yours. This climactic moment of all the plagues came to display, and dramatically so, that the Jews are at the epicenter of God’s plan. God promised Abraham that he would have a nation. At this moment God showed that He was on their side.

When the Jews were leaving Mitzrayim, and HaKadosh Baruch Hu was finishing off the Egyptians by bringing the sea (which a moment before had been doing a miraculous anti-gravity split) down on them the Midrash tells us about was going on in Heaven at that time. Chazal tell us that all physical objects down in this world have a Malach, an angel, a supervising spiritual entity that presides over it in the upper spheres of existence. The Egyptians were no different, and they, as a nation had their own Malachim, as do the Jews. At the time when the waters were descending from their unnatural position and wreaking havoc on the Mitzrim, the Malachim of the Egyptians looked on in horror. They didn’t understand. Chazal tell us that the Jews were at the lowest spiritual state possible upon their exodus, and the Egyptian Angels didn’t see it fair that their earthly counterparts be slaughtered while the seemingly indistinguishable Jews walked away as free men.

It was at that moment that a certain fundamental principle was set in place. The Jewish People are the Chosen Nation. And regardless of sin, no mater what circumstance they might find themselves in, they are the Chosen People anyway. We are God’s children - Bni Bechori Yisrael. We are his emissaries in this world, and even when they are seemingly indistinguishable from Egyptians, nonetheless Mitzrim are Mitzrim, Jews are Jews, and it was time for us to get out of there. The slaves of Egpyt became Jewish People via the exodus. The promise that HaKadosh Baruch Hu made to Avraham Avinu that his children would become a great nation came into fruition with Yetziyas Mitzrayim It was upon Yetziyas Mitzrayim that the Jews, as a nation were born. This is Pesach.

Every year this happens again. Rav Dessler explains (as brought from earlier Kabalistic sources) that the cycle of the Jewish calendar, and the various holidays in it are not merely commemorations or celebrations of events that have been swallowed up by history books. We are taught that Jewish history is alive, and that when the date of any given holiday returns, so does the energy that created the original event. This is the greatness of the spiritual opportunities that are present in every Chag. We are not simply remembering, rather we are experiencing and those lucky people who tap into the holiday correctly have the unique opportunity to bring that light into their lives.

In regards to Pesach this means that every year the Jewish People are chosen again. As we return to the fifteenth night of the month of Nisan the spiritual force which separated us from the Egyptians and set the reality of Bni Bechori Yisrael - comes back, and the Jewish nation becomes re-formed. In effect, we are re-chosen all over again, every year deeper and deeper.

With this we can understand the cryptic commandment in which Chazal tell us that in every generation every person is obligated to view himself as if he himself left Egypt. Not hi ancestors. Him. Now we understand how and why. Because he who correctly taps into the energy of Pesach really does leave!

The question is how do we tap into it? The answer is through Magid. Says the Sfas Emes, our words are far more powerful than we think. When we speak about the exodus, with our words we create a reality infested with the energy of the exodus. The more we speak about Yetzias Mitzrayim the more we enter into a world of redemption. We become a part of the story. We are painting a picture with our words. We are bringing ourselves literally (albeit not physically) into those very moments when the Jewish people were isolated as the chosen nation. When we speak about the plague of Frogs – it happens all over again. So too with every plague. And when we talk about leaving Egypt, on the spiritual level we really are. And this way, by the end of the Seder we too have walked through the whole exodus and have become chosen ourselves.

Let’s put this on the side and examine another exception to the rule of Over Le’Asiyasan, and that is by a Ger, a convert. As we know a convert needs to go to the Mikveh (a type of spiritual bath – christians stole the concept of baptism from this), before his full emersion he is not a Jew, but the moment he comes out, the instant in which his head pokes out of the water, he is eternally transformed into a full-fledged Jew. The immersion in the Mikveh here requires a Bracha, but the convert makes this blessing only after he comes out of the water. Why do we not apply Over Le’Asiyasan here? The obvious answer is that it’s not Shayach, it’s relevant for a non-Jew to make a Bracha, nowhere do we see a precedent for that. So automatically the convert only has the opportunity to make the blessing once he is Jewish, and that only happens once emerges from the process, so we don’t apply Over Le’Asiyasan here.

Says the Chasam Sofer, in light of the above we can understand why we don’t make the Bracha of Magid until after we finish the process. Magid is supposed to bring us to the point where we are Jews on a whole new, deeper, more profound, more internal level than we were before the Seder started. And therefore it’s not Shayach to make a Bracha on the experience until it’s over. Because if Magid is no less dramatic than a conversion process – in which we become the Chosen People again – where we become Jews again - then of course it is the moment that we complete this process that is most ideal to make the Bracha. Magid is our yearly immersion in the Mikveh, and when we emerge we come out as Jews, but on a totally different level. This is our exodus for the year, and the more we enter into the redemptive energies present at the Seder, the deeper potential for a connection with my inner Jewish identity will be available for this year.

HaKadosh Baruch Hu should give us a Bracha that we experience Magid to the fullest. Magid is one of the pivotal moments in the year. It is no less dramatic than the determining moment for how Jewish – how connected to Hashem we will be – this year. If we can fully enter into Magid and all of the redemptive qualities that it possesses, then there is no doubt that we will live lives of Shleimus and Simcha moving closer to HaKadosh Baruch Hu and the Geulah Sheleimah!

Friday, April 8, 2011

Pesach/Metzora: Talk the Talk

In this week’s Parsha we deal primarily with Tzara’as; a plague, often mistranslated as leprosy, which arrives on a person as a result of speaking Lashon HaRa, evil speech, about another person.

Throughout Torah literature we learn about punishments for many types of sins; lashes and even capitol punishment are dealt out by courts for different offenses. We are even told that certain transgressions will generate spiritual decrees that arrive without the need of a human court to carry them out - Kares, which means to be cut off from the Jewish people – is one example.

But at first glance, the relationship between Lashon HaRa and Tzara’as is a strikingly novel exception to the rule. It comes as a result of an Aveira, a sin, that has no physical ramifications other than speech, and none the less creates a physical malady that plagues the home, one’s clothing and then eventually the body itself. It’s not like other sins because there is no action, and it’s not like other punishments because the response which is carried out by heaven is physical. We don’t see anything like this anywhere else in Judaism.

So we need to ask both how this works and why this is so. How is it possible that my speech creates a physical reality, and why does Hashem choose to send this message home specifically by Lashon HaRa?

And while we are on the subject of speech, we need to discuss its very accentuated relationship to Pesach, whose name Peh-Sach - ‘The speaking Mouth’ and whose main villain Paroh, whose name spells Peh-Rah - ‘Evil Mouth’ – is a dead giveaway to the connection.

The whole Seder-evening surrounds the theme of speech. The Mitzvah of the night is “V’Higadita L’Vincha” – And you shall tell it over to your sons. The Sfarim HaKadoshim go wild over the greatness of Sipur Yetzias Mitzrayim - the commandment to tell over the story of the Exodus. We are told in the Hagadah how the greatest of our sages would tell over the story for hours upon hours. And we know that the ideal format of the Seder is a question-and-answer discussion, not simply reading the text to one’s self.

So our question returns. What is the seeming obsession with speech when it comes to Pesach?

To gain clarity, we need to spend a little time analyzing what speech is. The First Speech belongs to God. Hashem originally created the world through speech, like the Passuk says, “VaYomer Elokim Yehi Ohr” And God said let there be light – and there was light. God’s speech creates our physicality. As the Passuk says in Tehilim, ‘B’Dvar Hashem Shamayim Na’asu’ – With the Word of God were the heavens made. The Tanya explains that as long as God continually sustains the Ma’amaros, the statements with which He created the world, existence remain intact.
And we have this power as well. We too continually keep the world going with our speech. My Rebbe, Rav Yoel Rackovsky explained this with a unique understanding of King Solomon’s famous adage, “Hevel Havalim, HaKol Havel” – ‘Futility of futilities, all is futile.’ This sobering saying expresses how all things are worthless in comparison to the pursuit of Divine Closeness. But, Havel, doesn’t just mean worthless matter. It also means ‘breath’. Chazal tell us that the world only remains in existence in the merit of Hevel Tinokos Shel Beis Raban - The mutterings of young school children. There simple, honest readings of Chumash, the pure Modeh Ani, this unadulterated Havelthat’s what’s our contribution to the continuation of the universe’s being.

The Passuk in Bereishis says “VaYipach B’Apav Nishmas Chayim” – God blew a Soul of Life from Himself into man. Unkelos on the spot translates “Nishmas Chayim” as Ruach Mimalila - a spirit of speech. When God blew from Himself into us – it generated our ability talk The Talk, namely God’s.

My speech is so powerful that my prayers can sway the outcome of real life events. Whether or not I appreciate it, my speech, in parable-like comparison to God’s, created realities as well. And this is, understandably, of tremendous weight. But it begins to shed light on Lashon HaRa, a sin carried out with speech.

The severity of Lashon HaRa is the fact that, even though we see it as only words, this sin – in a very real way – paints a reality in which my victim exists in a more negative light. And therefore the punishment is that he becomes a Metzora, which Chazal explain to come from the term Motzie Ra - He who brings out bad. He who, with his words, chooses to revamp the world around him in a negative angle – the results shine back at him.

When a person, Chas V’Shalom speaks Lashon HaRa, he shows that he neither realizes nor cares about the intrinsic power that strength that speech carries. Says Hashem in response, ‘You think that your words don’t matter? You think they aren’t real? I’m going to show you that your words are very real.’ And thus it is specifically in a transgression of speech that Heaven delivers a very real, very tangible reminder that words matter – a lot.

And with the same concept we can begin to understand what is going on with Pesach as well. Says the Ramchal, the light which generated the first redemption, meaning the energy with which we left Egypt, is the same light, the same force that will be used to bring about the final redemption. In our terms: every year when we celebrate Pesach, another giant leap is taken towards Geula.

And this happens specifically by speaking out Sipur Yetzias Mitzrayim. The more I talk about redemption, the automatic outcome is that I paint a reality which is more receptive to the coming of Moshiach

And this emerges beautifully from a close reading of a seemingly simple piece in the Hagadah. There is a discussion between Ben Zoma and the Chachamim in regards to how we go about remembering Yitziyas Mitzrayim. The Passuk commands that you are obligated to remember the exodus, ‘Kol Yimei Chayecha’ - All the days of your life. Ah, but the Passuk could have said Yimei Chayecha - The days of your life, so what do we gain by throwing in all the days of your life? Say the Chachamim, Yimei Chayecha teaches us that in our times we need to fulfill this commandment, but the extra ‘all’, the extra ‘Kol’, that teaches us that we will remember the exodus even when the Messiah comes, “LeHavi L’Yimos HaMashiach”.

That’s the way we were taught to understand this passage since we are little kids. The problem is that is simply not what the words mean. LeHAvi L’Yimos HaMashiach doesn’t mean ‘in the days of the Messiah’ rather it means ‘to bring to the days of the Messiah’. What does it mean that this Mitzvah brings us to the days of Mashiach?

Now we understand clearly. Says the Sfas Emes, it is through speaking about redemption; it’s through telling the story of the exodus that we infuse the very fabric of the world around us with redemptive energy. And thus the Passuk comes to tell us that in as much as we speak about the Geulah from Mitzrayim do we also prepare the world do re-accept that light. ‘Kol Yimei Chayecha - LeHavi L’Yimos HaMashiach.

It’s clear at this point that the power of speech is no small thing. It is Godly and it has the ability to, on the one hand wreck the universe and tear up our lives and conversely it is on speech that the world stands and it is that same power that will bring the Geula Asida.

HaKadosh Baruch Hu should give us a Bracha to find the inspiration and motivation to only speak about the right things. When we do, we automatically make the world a better place. This Pesach, we should be Zoche to play an active role in bringing the redemption and be meritorious enough to see it soon. If we can do this, there is no doubt that we will live lives of Happiness and Growth, moving closer to the HaKadosh Baruch Hu and eventually Yimos HaMashiach!

Friday, April 1, 2011

Nisan/Parshas HaChodesh: I Just Can't Wait to be King

Chazal established that we read four special Parshios during the month of Adar. This week we read the final Parsha of the Arba Parshios - Parshas HaChodesh.

Parshas HaChodesh revolves around the commandment given from HaKadosh Baruch Hu to Moshe Rabbeinu in which Hashem says,
HaChodesh HaZeh Lachem, Rosh Chadashim. Rishon Hu Lachem L’Chodshei HaShana” – ‘This month shall be for you the beginning of the months. It shall be for you the first month of the year.’ We learn here about the first commandment given to the Jewish people: Kiddush HaChodesh

Kiddush HaChodesh (literally; ‘Sanctification of the Month’) is the act of declaring that the previous month has ended and the new month has begun. This proclamation, announced by Jewish courts (called a Beis Din) requires Eidus - testimony - that the new moon has been spotted, ending and simultaneously restarting the lunar-month cycle.

This power and responsibility given to Beis Din to declare when months begin and end, starts with Hashem saying HaChodesh HaZeh Lachem - ‘This month’ – meaning, the ability to formulate the months – ‘Shall be for you’ – is now in your hands.

The start of the new month is called Rosh Chodesh; and, as we will see, it is a very powerful moment.

We see in the Torah that this Mitzvah was given just before the redemption from Egypt stepped into high gear. The verses detailing this Mitzvah are found just before that of the Plague of the first-born. Chazal teach us that we learn from here that Kiddush HaChodesh is the Mitzvah of Geulah - redemption. We first need to understand what is the connection between Kiddush HaChodesh and the themes of Geulah/The Coming of Melech HaMoshiach - the Messiah. Because even though we learn about Rosh Chodesh within the context of Mitzrayim, Hashem promises us that the future redemption will be Acharis K’Reishis, that the final redemption, the Geula Adisa will magnify the themes of the first one, namely the exodus from Egypt. So what’s the connection between Rosh Chodesh and Moshiach?

Secondly, like we mentioned before, we aren’t talking about Kiddush HaChodesh for nothing. This Shabbos Kodesh, the week leading into Chodesh Nisan, was specifically set aside by Chazal to be Parshas HaChodesh. The question is, why? What is the connection between ‘Parshas HaChodesh’ and Nisan? And while it’s true that Passuk’s mentioning of, ‘Rishon Hu Lachem’ - ‘It shall be the first month for you’ - is a reference to the fact that Nisan is the first month in the lunar cycle; we still need to understand why it was Nisan specifically that was chosen to be the first month.

And to take it all once step deeper, we will hopefully see how both questions are really independent on one another. If A equals B, and B equals C, then A equals C. If Moshiach relates to Rosh Chodesh, and Rosh Chodesh is tied specifically toChodesh Nisan, then we will hopefully see how Moshiach and Geula are rooted in Nisan.

To understand the commonality between Rosh Chodesh and Moshiah we need to look at a story in Messeches Rosh HaShana. There, the Gemara tells the story of how Rav Chiya was told by Rebbi Yehudah to go to a certain city and perform Kiddush HaChodesh. Rav Chiya was told that when he completed his task, he was to send back the following message back to Rebbi Yehudah, “David Melech Yisrael Chai V’Kayam.” – ‘David, King of Israel, lives and endures.’

Rashi there clarifies why a declaration of the endurance of the Davidic Dynasty was an appropriate message to signify the sanctification of the moon. He explains that David HaMelech’s reign, (and subsequently his whole line after him, eventually leading to Mashiach ben David, the Messiah, who is a part of this lineage) is compared to the moon.

We see this in Tehilim (89:38), “K’Yareiach Yikon Olam” – ‘Like the moon, it (David’s reign) shall be established forever.’ Says the Radak in his commentary on this Passuk, and the Maharal in his explanation of the story above, David HaMelech’s dynasty and the moon share something important in common: perhaps at times they seems down and out – even invisible, but they are still holding on and destined to make a come-back. The moon withers away again and again, but it picks up. And it is specifically at the moment where it hits rock bottom that Rav Chiya was told to send back a message about David HaMelech’s journey through history.

It’s for this reason that in our Kiddush HaChodesh that we do today, we say about the moon that the Jewish people are Asidim L’Hischadesh KaMosah, in the future, with the coming of Melech HaMosiach (who, like we mentioned, needs to be a direct descendant of David HaMelech), we will be refreshed just like the moon.

If Kiddush HaChodesh is all tied up with David HaMelech then it is important to point out his spiritual significance. We are taught by the deeper sources that HaKadosh Baruch Hu interacts with us via seven Divine Attributes called, Sfiros or Midos. Specific key characters in Jewish history ‘mirror’ each one of these Traits. These select few are the representatives, or ‘Channels’ for the Sfiros. The seven people who serve as representatives of the Sfiros are the seven Ushpizin - Guests - that we invite over the course of Succos: Avraham Avinu, Yitzchak Avinu, Yaakov Avinu, Moshe Rabbeinu, Aharon HaKohen, Yosef HaTzadik and lastly David HaMelech.

David HaMelech parallels the final of the seven Midos called Malchus -Royalty. Royalty means control. A good king keeps all the various details of his kingdom in balance. In spiritual sense, the role of the Midah of Malchus is to ensure that the other six are in harmony. While it is beyond the scope of this essay to delve into everything that this means, it’s important to keep in mind that the concepts of David and Malchus go hand-in-hand, after all, we do call him David HaMelech .

With this we can begin to understand what it is about Nisan that highlights these messianic messages that HaChodesh contains. The Bnei Yisachar makes a few connections.

First, we are taught by the Ari’Zal that each of the twelve months parallels a one of the Shivtei Kah, the Twelve Tribes. Nisan, the first month, parallels Yehudah, who was ‘King’ of the tribes, and from whom David HaMelech and subsequently Moshiach descend.

We are taught by Chazal that the year has several starting points. There is the Rosh HaShana for holidays, the Rosh HaShana for the Trees, and there is also the Rosh HaShana for Melachim, for the Kings. It’s no longer surprising that the Rosh HaShana for Melachim is also Rosh Chodesh Nisan.

And this last one is simply fun. HaChodesh HaZeh Lachem, Rosh Chodashim - The letters that make up the word Lachem - ‘to you’, also spell “Melech” – King.

This explains the many references throughout Pesach-related literature to the concept of how via the exodus from Egypt, the Jewish people transcend to a new level called Bnei Melachim, ‘Kings and Sons of Kings’ – The energy of Malchus enters into the world in a big way during Nisan, and it transforms Lachem - You, into Melech, a King.

What does it mean that I am transformed into a Melech, a ‘micro-king’ during Nisan? Melech serves as an acrostic for Moach Lev Kaved - Brain, Heart, Kidneys. A king, as we mentioned before is in control. His guts don’t control him, nor do his emotions. First and foremost he’s collected and under control. He sees things objectively. His brain is up and running. He’s able to distinguish right from wrong without biases (heart) or base desires (guts) puling him astray. When it comes to Malchus, it’s first and foremost, Moach, then we can talk about Lev and Kaved.

(By the way, the system of Melech is the set-up of the human body: The Brain sits at the top, the heart beneath it, and the guts even lower.)

Chazal tell us in Messeches Rosh HaShana, “B’Nisan Nigalu, U’B’Nisan Asidim L’HiGa’el.” – In Nisan they were redeemed (from Egypt) and in Nisan they will be redeemed in the future. Like we said at the very start, the Geulah comes Acharis K’Reishis, only bigger and better. The first Geulah came together with Kidush HaChodesh to show that Jews can put the world around them in order. The Geulah Asida is going to come when Jews can show that they are Bnei Melachim - that they can put themselves in order¬ - Moach Lev Kaved.

HaKadosh Baruch Hu should give us a Bracha to realize our true value. If we only knew how precious we were, each on a prince and princess, then it would surely show in the way we act day-to-day. If we live life with through the lenses of Bnei Melachim, then there is no doubt that we will live lives of Simcha and Shleimus, moving closer to Melech Malchei HaMelachim HaKadosh Baruch Hu, and if we try really hard, hopefully - U’B’Nisan Asidim L’Higael.