Friday, August 26, 2011

Re'eh/Elul: There is no Middle of the Road

The following concepts are based on Reb Tzadok HaKohen, the Ohr G’Deliyahu and Rav Moshe Shapiro Shlit’a. Feel free to print this out and read it over Shabbos Kodesh, just please not during Tefilos!

We are on the verge of entering the emotionally charged month of Elul. As we have been taught through the generations, the Torah portions that we are reading always match up to the events on the Jewish calendar. This is called ‘HaKriyah Meoreres Es HaZman’ – the Scripture is awakening the Occasion. This being said, we need to uncover the common denominator between this week’s Parsha of Re’eh and the upcoming days of Elul.

The Passuk in the beginning of the Parsha says as follows: “Re’eh Anochi Nosein Lifneichem Bracha U’Klala” – Behold, for today I set before you (the possibility of either) Blessing or Curse. “Es HaBracha Asher Tishmi’u El HaMitzvos” – The Blessings will come as a result of adhering to the Commandments. “V’HaKlala Im Lo Tishmi’u” – And the curse which will descend upon you by not listening to them.

Says the Sforno, something much bigger than an ultimatum is being set down here. We already know that we get reward for doing the right thing and punishments in the opposite situation, so that cannot be the extent of these verses. Rather, the Chiddush, the new idea, the new concept that is being laid before us is that there is no middle path. It’s either Blessings for the Mitzvos or Curses because of Aveiros: Your Call.

But how can this possibly be? No middle-of-the-road? There are many aspects of my life that are not governed by the strict letter of the law. There are areas of my day-to-day that are not part of the Six-Thirteen! So how can it be that my whole life only has two paths with no intermediate option?

Says the Chovos HaLevavos; my carrying out of a Mitzvah is an expression that I am in tune with Ratzon Hashem. It is a physical statement that declares that I am HaKadosh Baruch Hu’s emissary in the world. I’m here to carry out His Will. The same applies when I refrain from any transgression. This being said, every aspect of my life – no matter how mundane – has the possibility of becoming either a Mitzvah or an Aveirah. There is no longer a middle path. From my morning cup of coffee to the brands of clothing that I wear; if I’m doing it for Hashem then it’s a Mitzvah as real as Honoring One’s Parents or shaking the Lulav. And it goes without saying that the opposite holds just the same.

Let’s momentarily leave these thoughts on the backburner and take an Elul-related detour…

The Kabalistic tradition reveals to us that there are several factors that create the ‘personality’ of every month. The Sefer Yetzirah (attributed to Avraham Avinu) breaks up the letters of the Alef-Beis, human capabilities (walking, digestion, sight etc…) among other factors to correspond to each of the months. (Addressing them all is beyond the current scope of this essay) It’s by reaching the depth of each of the components and how they relate to one another that we will be able to understand the full scope of the month’s significance.

Says the Sefer Yetzirah, this month’s letter is Yud (י) and the human capability of the month is Making/Doing/Creating. At first this seems very random, so let’s try to make some sense of it.

Chazal explain that Yud is a lofty and exalted letter. The Ba’al Shem Tov taught that it represents God’s desire to bestow of His essence. It’s the letter that epitomizes Ratzon Hashem. Rashi in the beginning of the Torah hints to us that Yud is the letter of Chochmah – Wisdom. Because the prefix of Yud in a word makes the word future-tense, Yud comes to manifest that which only exists in thought. The Gemara in Brachos tells us that the World to Come was created with a Yud. The World to Come is - exactly as its name implies – a world of potential.  This is really a reference to the fact that Yud, parallels the Kabalistic Sfira (Divine Emenation) of that name – Chochmah – which is the first and highest of the series of Sfiros. Therefore Yud really is a concentration of God’s all-encompassing Wisdom.

But this leads us to an issue. For if Yud is about Widsom, if it literally hangs above all of the other letters, then what in the world is its connection to the other theme of the month - Ma’aseh – Making? Practical action is so down to earth! Surely it would be more appropriate if the month’s human capability was meditation or contemplation; something better suited for the Chochmah of Yud!

Another question about Ma’aseh:

The Vilna Gaon, otherwise known as the Gra, in his commentary to the Sefer Yetzirah briefly explains why this month is historically connected to ‘making’. It was on the first day of Elul that Moshe Rabbeinu ascended the mountain to receive the Luchos Shniyos (the Second Tablets) forty days after the first ones were destroyed. Therefore the month itself is kicked-off surrounding the theme of Luchos. The Passuk says about the LuchosV’HaLuchos Ma’aseh Elokim Heimah” – ‘And the Tablets were God’s making.’ So we see a clear connection between Ma’aseh and Elul.

But there is one massive problem with the Gra’s explanation. That Passuk - “V’HaLuchos Ma’aseh Elokim Heimah” – has nothing to do with Moshe’s ascent on the first of Elul to receive the second tablets. Why? Because the biblical statement describing the Tablets as the work of God was said about the first Tablets - not the second ones! That verse is connected to when the first Tablet’s were supposed to be received four months ago in Sivan. It is not an Elul-related verse. So then what is the connection between Ma’aseh and Elul?

Well, what does the Torah mean when we are told that the Luchos Rishonos were Ma’aseh Elokim? We are taught that Hashem wrote His very Essence into the Torah. The Gemara in Messeches Shabbos reveals that the Torah HaKedoshah is God’s Soul in written form, so to speak.

Therefore, if the Torah is totally Godly, then the vessel onto which it is received needs to be Godly as well – otherwise there is an obvious incompatibility. Thus the Luchos need to be Ma’aseh Elokim in order to receive the Godly letters of Torah that are to be written upon them.

When Moshe smashed the first Tablets we lost that Divine Vessel. But God, after heading to Moshe’s prayers said Psal Lcha Shnei Luchos KaRishonim – Engrave for yourself two new Tablets like the first ones. God was empowering to Moshe to come up with man-made Tablets that reach the level of Ma’aseh Elokim.

The Torah, as it is, is a series of verses that transform into lengthy, fluid concepts. Because of the fact that the Torah is made up of words, I have the ability to speak out Torah concepts. On the other hand, if I take a cowhide and leave it as it is, it’s still not a Torah. It’s a piece of leather. But the moment I take those words of Torah and inscribe them on the parchment that piece of cowhide gets elevated to the holiness of the Torah itself! Amazing! It’s really a profound concept that we have the ability to take mundane parchment and infuse it with God’s innermost Will. Through this we lift it up to indescribable levels of holiness.

On a much bigger scale this is what happened when Moshe Rabbeinu went up on the first day of Elul. He was beginning the new process of being able to elevate that which is man-made into the realm of the Divine. Psal Lcha Shnei Luchos KaRishonim – You can make Luchos that hit the standard of Ma’aseh Elokim.

Therefore the Gra’s explanation makes perfect sense. The entire ascent of Moshe Rabbeinu on Rosh Chodesh Elul was only to craft a man-made Ma’aseh that would be able to reach the levels of Godly Creation. Thus the Second Luchos that we begin Elul with are specifically there to bring us to V’HaLuchos Ma’aseh Elokim Heimah. Elul is where the mundane can transcend into and become the Divine.

This now explains why we learn about Re’eh as we enter Elul. As we mentioned in the very beginning, the first verses of the Parsha - Re’eh Anochi Nosein Lifneichem Bracha U’Klala, Es HaBracha Asher Tishmi’u El HaMitzvos, V’HaKlala Im Lo Tishmi’u” teach us that there is no middle ground. Nothing is plain. Nothing just is. Every mundane facet of my life, everything that seems to be as physical and coarse as cowhide literally has the potential to be elevated to the status of a Torah. If I drink it for the right reasons then my morning coffee is as holy as any other Mitzvah in the Torah. In Elul I’m Mamesh raising up my whole life. I’m turning my life into Ma’aseh Elokim.

This is why the letter of the month is the lofty Yud and with no contradiction it is the month of commonplace Ma’aseh. In Elul we are taking my ordinary mundane Ma’aseh, the simple things, and we attach them to the Yud, the letter of Chochmah, of Hashem’s innermost Wisdom. Elul is where the mundane can transcend into the Divine.

There is an amazing empowerment entering into the world if we are just ready to be aware of it and let it in. HaKadosh Baruch Hu is giving us a year-end event, a rare opportunity to step up everything that we’ve gotten accustomed to until now. There is no longer a middle path. Every last detail, every nook and cranny – everything is yours to be elevated. There is so much inspiration and motivation to be taken from the fact that our seemingly little, dull, and commonplace actions down here can create such monumental shockwaves in loftier, spiritual realms than we can see.

The practical application starts with simple awareness. If we try more and more to remember the fact that there is no middle path – everything either adds or detracts – then it is obvious that we will see an immediate impact on our decision making and on our Avodas Hashem as a whole.

HaKadosh Baruch Hu should bless us with the consciousness and alacrity to continually live through such a lofty and supremely refined perspective that Elul is making available to us. If we can tap into this dynamic there is no doubt that we will live lives of Simcha and Shleimus, moving closer to HaKadosh Baruch Hu and ultimately the Geulah Sheleimah!

Friday, August 19, 2011

Eikev: Party in an Elevator

Feel free to print this out and read it over Shabbos Kodesh, just please not during Tefilos.

This week’s Parsha begins with Moshe Rabbeinu telling the Jewish People that if they observe the commandments and full-heartedly devote themselves to Avodas Hashem, then God will keep His promise to bring them into Eretz Yisrael and then conquer it.

Due to the interesting word-usage in the opening Passuk, many bottles have ink have been invested into its exposition. With Hashem’s help, perhaps we too will access some levels of the Torah HaKedosha’s beautiful depth. Let’s explore.

Says the Passuk, “V’Haya Eikev Tishmi’un Es HaMishpatim…  - ‘And it will be on the heels of your heeding to the commandments…’ This is a fancy way of saying, ‘This is what will happen when you listen to Ratzon Hashem and carry it out.

Now, the Passuk merely could have stated ‘V’Haya Im Tishmi’un’ – ‘And it will be if you listen’. Yet, instead, Hashem chose the language of Eikev, which in affect also means ‘if’. When B is Eikev A it tells me that B was the result of A. So, at the end of the day what is gained by switching the simple ‘Im' with ‘Eikev’?

Come Chazal and tell us that the Passuk is coming to deal with a special type of Mitzvah and that the use of language is hinting to us the change. We all have an easier time with Mitzvos that we see as severe or important.  Fasting on Yom Kippur and eating Matzah are good examples. They only come around so often, and when they do they get pretty hyped up. These are called Mitzvos Chamuros – serious Mitzvos.  But there are Mitzvos Kalos, the types of commandment that people sometimes walk all over. Let’s take Birkas HaMazon. Culturally, making an after-Bracha is not treated as a big deal the way those first two examples are. With some thought it becomes easy to place many examples onto either side.

About that second category, the Mitzvos Kalos, Chazal say that a person is Dash B’Akvav, he tramples them with his heels. This means that they are not paid the attention that is due to them. They are not given the respect that they deserve. Our Passuk is coming to tell us about the immense reward for keeping this type of Mitzvah. “V’Haya Eikev Tishmi’un”, It will be when you listen to the Eikev-related Mitzvos. When you make a big deal out of the Mitzvos that are all too often overlooked – that’s where the big reward is.

To make things sweeter, comes the hold Ohr HaChayim and he reminds us of an important principle in Biblical exegesis: “Ain ‘V’Haya’ Ela Lashon Simcha”. When a Passuk begins with V’Haya, ‘And it will be’, you can be sure that the Torah is about to impart good news. Therefore, “V’Haya Eikev Tishmi’un” is coming to tell us that there are very special levels of pleasure and happiness that are waiting for those who keep the Mitzvos that other people are trampling on. Why is this so?

Well, let’s being with the opposite side. In the way that V’Haya is announcing the arrival good vibes, so too Va’Yihi – And it was – is warning the arrival of painful information. It is a Lashon Tzar. How does this work?

The Ze’ev Yitrof explains that the root Yihi is really future tense, but the Hebrew prefix of Vav flips the tense of the word from Yihi - It will be, to Va’Yihi - And it was. This tense-switching prefix is called the Vav-HaHipuch, The Overturning-Vav.  ‘It will be’ connotes the hope for the future, but the Vav HaHipuch puts those hopes out of reach. It tires out what once was a bright possibility. And nothing is more depressing than crushed hopes. This is why VaYihi is Lashon Tzar.

Conversely Haya means ‘It was’ – back in the day, under the cobwebs of history. In this case the Vav HaHipuch breathes new life into that which time has already dominated, switching Haya - ‘It was’ into V’Haya - ‘It shall be’. This refreshing vitality is the life of the Lashon Simcha.

So where is the great Simcha is keeping the Mitzvos Kalos? Those easy Mitzvos, the Mitzvos trampled on by the ‘heels’ of the culture share the theme of Haya, past tense. We see them as bellow us, behind us and beneath us – lifeless and boring. But when we carry them out with zeal, when we fulfill them with enthusiasm, we breathe new life into a once tired and lackluster experience. We take a Haya type of Mitzvah, put in under the enlivening forces of the Vav-HaHipuch and make it a V’Haya type of Mitzvah filled with vitality and excitement.

This is what is going on in the life of Yaakov Avinu. In the epic prophecy of the ladder, the Passuk describes the ladder as being Mutzav Artza and Magi’a Shamaima. It was set on the ground but reaching Heavenward. Hashem is showing Yaakov one aspect of the uniquely Jewish quality to take that which is low and depleted (Mutzav Artza), and raise it up, turning it into something energized and lofty (Magi’a Shamaima).

The letter Yud (י) is the floating letter. Because it hangs in the air, it manifests itself as the Magi’a Shamai letter. If this is true then it makes a lot of sense that the prefix that connotes VaYihi, the letter that serves as the prefix that makes a word future tense is Yud. When the letter Yud starts a word, the whole word is being lifted up after it. Magia Shamaima and therefore Lashon Simcha.

In truth, this begins at Yaakov’s birth. As the Torah HaKedosha tells us, Yaakov Avinu was born a twin. Right before he came out Eisav preceded him. But Yaakov didn’t let Eisav leave without a fight. Yaakov gets his name because – V’Yado Ochezes B’Akeiv Eisav – his hand was grasping on to the Akeiv, the heel of Eisav. He was trying to pull himself out first.

At first glance it’s an utterly ridiculous thought. Yaakov Avinu, the exaltedly righteous forefather of our nation is named after the heel of his evil nemesis Eisav? How does that make any sense?

Says the Arizal, an amazing thing happened at those dramatic moments of the birth of the twins. VYado Ochezes B’Akeiv Eisav, Yaakov’s physical grabbing of Eisav’s heel is merely a small physical manifestation of a much larger and more supernal reality.

It’s brought down that the original plan was not for Yaakov versus Eisav. They were not supposed to be set against one another. Rather, they were meant to work together. The initial set up for Am Yisrael was for Yaakov and Eisav to split the twelve tribes in half - six a piece. The Neshamos that were connected to bringing holiness out of the earth were supposed to come from Eisav, as he is described as an Ish Sadeh, man of the field. All the lofty spiritual Tikunim (universal, esoteric perfections) that the world needed were to come from Yaakov. They would split the different roles. Earth and Heaven. Body and soul. Together they would unify two rectified areas of existence thereby making the universe whole.

But Eisav emerged hairy and bearded. He came out Asui, ‘made’. He wasn’t interested in working in the world of spiritual labor. He was done before he started. This being Asui is the root of the name Eisav. At the moment of VYado Ochezes B’Akeiv Eisav, when Yaakov grabbed onto the heel of, the lower domain of Eisav; he was really usurping those baser spiritual Kochos for himself. He was accessing the powers of Mutzav Artza that were originally cut out for Eisav and he attached them to his natural Kochos of Magi’a Shamaima. The dream he saw later on was a manifestation of this occurrence. Eisav declared himself to be ready and finished. Eisav was a living VaYihi. His very existence was past-tensed. He had all of this potential and he turned it down.

This means that Yaakov’s whole uniqueness stems from the fact that he was able to access the heel-oriented powers that were originally connected to Eisav. He took the powers that were firmly on the ground and he, in his special way, elevated them.

So then why is his name Yaakov? Shouldn’t it be Eikev? What is the extra Yud doing there in the beginning? Well now the answer should be obvious. The whole concept of taking the Mutzav Artza and making it Magi’a Shamaima is manifested as the flip from past-tense to future-tense: the prefix of Yud. Eisav, who came out ready made with no further potential was V’Haya and thereby Mutzav Artza. Yaakov who came out excited for growth manifested VaYihi and thereby was able to lift things up to the level of Magi’a Shamaima.

Like we said, the Yud, the letter of Magia Shamaima takes a normal word and puts it into the exciting realm of that which is yet to fully be. Therefore, Yaakov’s whole being is to take the Eikev and lift it up, make it Magi’a Shamaima, to excite it and make it future tense… to attach a Yud to the Eikev. Yud plus Eikev spells Yaakov.

This is the depth of V’Haya Eikev Tishmi’un. If you bring the Eikev into the future tense, if you excite that which is naturally low, If you come to deal with Mitzvos the way Yaakov Avinu did that’s the real Simcha and that is where the really big reward is in store.

If we can carry this out, if we can live with this passion, if we can take the Mitzvos that are Mamesh on the ground and then lift them up – then we will be Zocheh to real joy in this world and amazing reward in the next. This is why the Passuk tells us Yagel Yaakov Yismach Yisrael – it’s specifically through accessing this power of Yaakov through which we will have astounding ecstasy in our Avodas Hashem.

HaKadosh Baruch Hu should give us a Bracha to constantly feel the inspiration needed in order to live in this headspace. When we go about our Avodas Hashem in this fashion there is no doubt that we will live lives of Simcha and Shleimus moving closer to the Creator and inevitably towards the Geulah Sheleimah!

Friday, August 12, 2011

Shabbos Nachamu: Finding Your Center

The following concepts have been adapted from the Ramchal, the Aish Kodesh and the Ohr G’deliyahu. Feel free to print this out and read it over Shabbos Kodesh, just please not during Tefilos!

This week we leave the period of Bein HaMeitzarim. We are departing from the time of the year that is devoted to mourning the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash. We are entering instead into a period of spiritual and emotional recovery. We begin now to look forward, we raise our hopes once more. We start this process with the heartening words of the Navi. “Nachamu, Nachamu Ami…” – ‘My nation; be comforted, be comforted…’

Chazal, in the Yalkut Shimoni draw an interesting parallel. Why does the Navi tell us ‘Nachamu’ twice? Why is there a double-Lashon? Because a twofold portion of consoling is required for the nation that sinned twice over. The Passuk that laments the destruction bemoans, ‘Cheit Chatah Yerushalayim’ – ‘Jerusalem has sinned a sin.’ Just as they were Chotei B’Kiflayim, just as the erred in the double; so too they will eventually be Misnachamim B’Kiflayim, they will experience a dual sense of comfort. Nachamu and Nachamu…

The concept of the double-sin requires a closer examination.

Our goal in this world is to reveal Elokus, to expose spirituality and godliness in the lowest, most physical realms of existence. We are meant to bring holiness to all aspects of being.

Adam HaRishon, the first man, had tremendously exposed spirituality and miraculously receptive physicality. The Kabalists explain that our experiences of spirituality and physicality are relative. We perceive steak as physical and Yom Kippur as spiritual. But that’s not the peak of our potential. Adam lived in such a way that an experience like Yom Kippur came across to him like steak does to us. If that’s true then we don’t have the proper terminology to relate to the nature of what his spirituality was like. It’s beyond our current comprehension. This puts the entire story of Gan Eden into a different light. It was a totally different quality of existence.

The sin of the Tree of Knowledge shattered all of that. It lowered the universe. It brought everything down a notch. The result of Adam’s sin is the world as we know it. Our job is to restore it. Obviously this is not an easy job.

The challenge has two sides to the coin: On the one hand, Hashem has engineered the universe in such a way that the now Elokus, the Divine Light, has withdrawn itself. It’s pulled back and it’s playing hard to get. Because of its retreat there is a cosmic vacuum created in its absence. That existential hole is the root of our second challenge: the overpowering of Gashmiyus. Physicality is too coarse; it comes across as too insensitive to be a vessel for spirituality. So the prize has distanced itself and roadblocks have gotten themselves in the way. A two-sided challenge.

In parallel to this we have been given a tool that mirrors the state of the universe. The point of that being that if we can restore the balance in the tool it could perhaps set the universe straight as well. By this we mean the dynamic of body and soul. We have this Chelek Elokah MiMa’al, an Expression of Elevated Divine Light that is (on whatever level that we can put it into words) put on a dimmer and then crammed into a body. The status of the body/soul experience matches the inter-galactic state of affairs. The soul is restricted from shining forth its true power and the body’s tactlessness has been intensified. The prize has distanced itself and roadblocks have gotten themselves in the way. Great.

Therefore, every time we get it right, every single time we fulfill a positive commandment we reveal a little bit more of that light in both ourselves and within the universe around us as well. Simultaneously, we deemphasize the weightiness of our physical bodies and make the world a more spiritually receptive place. This is the meaning of the famous Kabalistic concept that the universe is a big person, and each person is a mini-universe.

But what emerges is that when we sin, we drag ourselves as well as the world around us down on those same two levels. We increase the density of the body and we also further restrain, we tighten the collar (so to speak) on our souls. When that happens we cause the further retreat of spirituality and the increased density of physicality.

This is the depth of Cheit Chatah Yerushalayim. This is the meaning of the double-sin. This how the Jewish people were Chotei B’Kiflayim. We messed it up on two calamitous levels.

So how will we be Misnachamim B’Kiflayim? From where does our two-fold comfort shine forth? For that we turn to this week’s Parsha.

We know that the Kriya is Me’orer the Zman. The Torah reading of the week is intrinsically intertwined with the goings-on of the Jewish cycle of the year. The moment in time parallels the content of the scripture. The calendar-related energies flow from the pipes of their affixed Torah readings. That means that the concepts of moving from Galus to Geulah, the vehicle that takes us out of Bein HaMeitzarim must be contained in Parshas Va’Eschanan.

In the very beginning of the Parsha, Moshe Rabbeinu delivers a lengthy oration on the topic of exile and redemption. But interestingly, this historic monologue concludes with a proclamation that has very little to do with topic at hand. Let’s explain.

Says Moshe (this is a very rough topical adaptation), “Unlike me, you will cross the Jordan River and enter into the land. When you get there, take great care to uphold and preserve your relationship with God. For if you forget that covenant, if you become corrupt, if you serve idols and perversely enter yourselves into the realm of all that which is evil in the eyes of the Lord, then you will suffer the consequences. You will perish quickly and you will be expelled from the land.” Sounds like Bein HaMeitzarim so far…

Moshe goes on, “From there, from the contemplative distance of the exile you will long, you will thirst for your God. In distress and pain you will return to Him. And He will listen to you. He is merciful and He will want you back. You will not be destroyed. You will be redeemed.” Beautiful, we’re moving away from Bein HaMeitzarim. The connection between the Moment and the Verse has been found.

But Moshe doesn’t stop: “Look back at what has preceded you: Your God extracted you when you were in Egypt. You looked and acted no different than your oppressors. They served idols and you did as well. Yet He took you out in dramatic and miraculous fashion. And your God revealed Himself to you. You heard His Voice speak directly to you at Sinai. You experienced this and lived. Your relationship with him is unique. Therefore, Atah Hareisa LaDa’as Ki Hashem Hu HaElokim, Ein Od Milvado! You have been shown; you know that God is the source of all of the forces, both spiritual and physical. There is none other than Him!”

This passage does many things to the national psyche. It informs, it cautions and it inspires. But the ending doesn’t fit. We are told that if we do wrong we will be punished and when we repent we will be forgiven. Why is this fact backed up with the memory of the Exodus and Mount Sinai? And why does that have to be topped off with Atah Hareisa?!

Says Rashi, at the moment of Atah Hareisa, at the time of the declaration of God’s Supreme Unity, Hashem was Kara Es Ha’Elyonim V’Kara Es HaTachtonim. ripped open the Elyonim (the upper spheres of existence) and He ripped open the Tachtonim (the lower realms of reality). His presence descended so that it could be revealed through all of the layers of the universe, and He simultaneously busted open physicality to make it receptive to that immense spirituality.

This dynamic of revelation to the world is a manifestation of the preceding reminders of the Exodus and the experience of Sinai. During Yetziyas Mitzrayim, God went against the natural format of the world by forcibly extracting a spiritually jaded Jewish people. We are taught that at the time of the Exodus we were on the brink of spiritual demise. But God, due to His immense love for us turned up the spirituality-dial and rocketed us out of there. He brought every single person to the level of immense prophecy, even though we were not ready to receive it. He elevated us out of the depths. He ripped open the Tachtonim.

At Ma’amad Har Sinai, as the nation stood at the foot of the mountain He did the opposite. He appeared within the fire and smoke and brought Himself (so to speak) down to us. His voice, a voice without physical manifestation, echoed through the world. He took the loftiness of the upper echelons and delivered it to us. He ripped open the Elyonim.

So we have explained how the moment of Atah Hareisa LaDa’as Ki Hashem Hu HaElokim, Ein Od Milvado is backed up by Yitziyas Mitzrayim and Ma’amad Har Sinai. But what does that have to do with the Geulah? Why does this section serve as the punchline to the discourse of exile and redemption?

We have a Mitzvah to remember these two experiences every day. It’s right after Shacharis in your Siddur. The purpose of this is to tap back into those energies. We are told to mentally transport ourselves back to those experiences and nurse from their power and meaning.

Because of Atah Hareisa, because of how God was Kara Es Ha’Elyonim V’Kara Es HaTachtonim we have a certain reality etched into the fiber of our collective being. God, when he ripped open the Tachtonim and revealed the Elyonim, showed us that it is very possible to overcome the two-sided challenge of Avodas Hashem. When He took us out from Egypt we were shown that it is within the realms our divine empowerment to elevate the physicality. We can come out. When we came down to us at Sinai He gave us the power to control spirituality. He showed us that we can direct the heavens towards us down here. We can bridge the gap. We can raise earth toward the skies and we can bring heaven down to us as well.

This knowledge, the awareness that it is part of our very being to over come this two sided struggle is itself the double-portion of condolence that we need as we leave the twice-paining stage of Cheit Chatah Yerushalayim. When He was Kara Es Ha’Elyonim, Hashem was saying Nachamu, and when He was Kara Es HaTachtonim He was saying Nachamu again…

We can, we shall and it is Mamesh our destiny to overcome. In our metaphysical DNA is a gene of spiritual-superiority. The Beis Hamikdash raised man towards God, and made God an attainable experience for man. In times without the Beis HaMikdash it is incumbent upon every individual to tap into the deepest resources of inspiration and create that connection and restore that balance. We can be Korei the Elyonim, Nachamu. We can be Korei the Tachtonim, Nachamu.

This brings us to the final double-Lashon. At the end of Eicha, Am Yisrael says, “Hashiveinu Hashem Eilecha V’Nashuva, Chadeish Yameinu K’Kedem.” Return us and we shall return. Help us tap into both levels of Nachamu. Help us restore the balance. Help bring us back to Kedem. The way it used to be. Kedem means B’Gan Eden MiKedem - Back to the Garden of Eden, back to the sublime state of pre-sin universe. HaKadosh Baruch Hu should help us get there.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Bein HaMeitzarim: Hey! Don't you know who my father is?

The following essay has been pulled together based on concepts from the Bnei Yissachar, the Maharal and Rav Dessler. Feel free to print this out and read it over Shabbos, just please not during Tefilos!

Bein HaMeitzarim’, the Three Weeks, are a time that carry tremendous spiritual weight. Chazal tell us that these days were originally intended to be the highest holiday on the calendar. To our pain and dismay, generations of sin have made these days fall into the realm of destruction. But the Tzadikim explain that if we can in fact turn it around, if we can bring back these days to their proper loftiness then that elevation itself will be experienced as the redemption.

When we Daven, we are supposed to be Mechaven to (concentrate on) the meaning of the words. When we pronounce Hashem’s name as Alef-Daled-Nun-Yud, (known as Sheim-Adnus), it is not foreign to us that we are in truth being Mechaven to Shem-Havayah, which is Yud-Hei-Vav and Hei. This is called a Kavanah, we read one thing and think of something else.

The Arizal revealed to us that there are specific times are times that we there are additional or substitutional Kavanos when saying specific words or Hashem’s name. One relevant example that he taught us is that during Bein HaMeitzarim, when we pronounce Sheim-Adnus at the end of the first Bracha of Shmona Esrei, instead of saying ‘Baruch Atah Hashem’ and being Mechaven to Yud-Kay-Vav-Kay, we should instead be Mechaven to Tes-Daled-Hei and Daled, what is known as ‘Sheim Tadhad’.

(It can probably be said that Kabbalistic Kavanos are beyond the scope of our Avodas Hashem. Nonetheless, the awareness of the Torah’s Depth and the messages to be revealed from these esoteric teachings are worthwhile in of themselves.)

We are now forced to ask three very important questions. First, what in the world is Tadhad? Secondly, whatever the meaning of Tadhad is, if it is only something that we are Mechaven to during Bein HeMeitzarim, what is its relevancy to the Three weeks? Third; even with the two aforementioned problems addressed, we don’t employ this Kavanah every time that we say Adnus, this Kavanah is specific to the first Bracha of Shmona Esrei only. Why is Tadhad, specifically in this time, only connected to the first Bracha?

Buckle your seatbelts. Let’s explore.

The first point is that Tadhad; Tes-Daled-Hei and Daled are the letters that come before Yud-Kay-Vav-Kay. Yud is preceded by Tes. Hei is preceded by Daled. Vav is preceded by Hei. And the final Hei in Havayah is like the first; it too is preceded by Daled. Therefore, we can define Tadhad as being a step removed, a level pulled back from Havayah.

Chazal have taught us that the reason that Hashem reveals Himself to us through different names is because each name is a manifestation of a different mode of interaction. Yud-Kay-Vav-Kay is the name associated with Rachamim, mercy. Hashem’s Divine Benevolence is revealed to us via Sheim Havayah.

What emerges from this would be that Tadhad, as the pulling back of Havayah would be a manifestation of a certain withdrawal or hiding of Hashem’s Attribute of Rachamim. As we know, Bein HaMeitzarim is that time. The spiritual struggle and historical pain of the Three Weeks stems from the feeling of Hashem turning us a blind eye and a deaf ear. There is a direct relationship between Havayah and us. When that relationship shifts, the Name itself withdraws to a certain extent.

Deeper. The numerical value of Tes-Daled-Hei and Daled is twenty-two, paralleling the number of days in Bein HaMeitzarim. But we can break it down further. Just like the Kabbalists discuss that Havayah is really made up of two components that are drawn together, so too does Tadhad. There is a special prayer said before many Mitzvos called L’Sheim Yichud. In that prayer we beseech Hashem to allow our Mitzvos to serve as a vehicle of unification between Yud-Hei and Vav-Hei. This one whole unit called Havayah on some level has two parts that can be analyzed on their own. Thus, Tadhad can be viewed as Tad and Had. Tad, meaning Tes and Daled, whose numerical value is thirteen, parallels the first level of Bein HaMeitzarim from the seventeenth of Tamuz until Rosh Chodesh Av, which is a span of thirteen days. And the second, escalated portion of Bein HaMeitzarim that we call the ‘Nine Days’ are reflected by the second portion of Hei-Daled, whose numerical value is nine. It fits exactly.

Even though we understand why Tadhad is a Bein HaMeitzarim-specific Kavanah, we still need to explain why it belongs particularly in the first Brachah of Shmonah Esrei.

First, we need to explain what the first Brachah is. As we know the Brachah begins by us stating that Hashem is not only our God, but also He is the God of our forefathers. He is Avraham’s God. He is Yitzchak’s and Yaakov’s God. We ask Hashem to remember His relationship with them and thereby listen to us. The use the first Bracha of Shmona Esrei to employ Zechus Avos, the merit of the forefathers, in order to give us an advantage going into prayer.

Chazal tells us that when HaKadosh Baruch Hu informed Avraham Avinu about the Beis HaMikdash, he asked what would happen once it is destroyed? God responded by saying that the words of prayer would replace the sacrificial offerings.

The Halacha tells us that one is supposed to face Yerushalayim during prayer. It’s even brought down that one is supposed to envision himself as if he is standing in front of the Beis HaMikdash! Why? Because our prayers today are the closest thing that we have to the Temple.

In Netzach Yisrael, the Maharal explains that the first Beis HaMikdash stood because of Zechus Avos, the merit of the three forefathers – the Avos. This doesn’t mean that there is Divine Nepotism. Zechus Avos doesn’t mean that we get ‘brownie-points’ for our blood ties. God is the Apex of Truth and Justice. He doesn’t play favorites or pervert integrity. Rather, Zechus Avos means that we have an intrinsic genetic/spiritual likeness to the Avos, we inherited from them a rich legacy of holy teachings and devout character traits. Zechus comes from Zach, which means pure. We have a holiness from them hardwired into our genes. When we say that the Beis HaMikdash stood because of Zechus Avos, we mean that our likeness and desire to further the messages of our Holy Patriarchs gave the Beis HaMikdash meaning. These three pillars of our faith were the basis of its standing.

Therefore, when we rejected and destroyed those ‘pillars’, the Beis HaMikdash merely collapsed on its own. Let’s explain

Chazal tell us that the Beis HaMikdash was destroyed because the Jews were deeply entrenched in the three cardinal sins: Shfichus Damim (murder), Gilui Arayos (promiscuity), and Avodah Zara (idol worship). These three actions serves as a break from Zechus Avos. Let’s explain.

Avraham Avinu’s spiritual expression was the Midah, the attribute of Chesed, loving-kindness. Embedded in Avraham was a natural urge to pour out love, to bestow goodness onto others. His natural tendency was to extend of himself into others by self-sacrifice and personal investment.

This parallels Gilui Arayos. When the Torah HaKedosha list the various disallowed intimate physical relationships, when it enumerates the various Arayos, incest is referred to as Chesed. Why is sexual promiscuity deemed a ‘Chesed’? The answer, says the Ba’al Shem Tov, is because Chesed in the realm of holiness is an extension of self for the sake of something good, for the sake of giving. It is the breaking down of boundaries in order to connect to another being. All of the prohibited relationships when violated are also a breaking down of bounderies in order to give of one’s self. Obviously though, violating Gilui Arayos is an innapropriate breaking down of boundaries in the realm of impurity. When the Jews entered too deeply into Giliu Arayos, they severed their ties with Avraham.

Yitzchak’s Midah is Din (Justice). He serves as the channel of revelation of this attribute. This parallels Shfichus Damim, murder. Justice means that those who are in the right get what’s coming to them, and those who are in the wrong get what’s coming to them as well. Murder stems from a twisted sense of judgment. When the compass of morality is properly aligned then the court divvies out the death penalty when appropriate. But when personal biases and corruptions dictate the decision making process; when anger and vendettas cause corruption then perverted justice, sickened Din brings about murder.

Yaakov’s spiritual expression was Tiferes, or Emes meaning Truth. The Rambam explains that our pull to have a relationship with something bigger than ourselves is rooted in our existential hunger for truth. We want authenticity. We crave the ‘real-thing’. Therefore, he continues by saying that the most important reason to devote ourselves to Avodas Hashem is simply because it is true. Yaakov is called by the Torah as the Ish Tam Yosheiv Ohalim, he is fully engrossed, he has removed all of the distractions in his Avodas Hashem. In contrast to this obviously stand Avodah Zara.

At this stage it makes a tremendous amount of sense to offer the following possibility: If in today’s era each person activates his own Beis HaMikdash through his prayers, then in the same way that the Beis HaMikdash was founded on Zechus Avos, then so too we must begin our Shmona Esrei by establishing that connection to Zechus Avos as well. If this is true then it is specifically during Bein HaMeitzarim, where we mourn the loss of the Temple due of a break with Zechus Avos that we will sense that distance manifest itself in the pulling back of Havayah into Tadhad specifically in this first Brachah.

The message is clear. If we want to return to the physical Beis HaMikdash, then we need to constantly clarify and strengthen our relationship to Zechus Avos. But as we explained, those Kochos are already latent within us. The inheritance that we have received from our forefathers is a wellspring of internal strength and dedication to spiritual elevation. This is not about achieving something new. This is not about attaining something foreign. Zechus Avos is about tapping into an energy that already exists within us.

This requires a tremendous amount of personal self-evaluation, but if we can do this, if we can dig deep and access the intrinsic, elevated aspects of ourselves, then there is no doubt that HaKadosh Baruch Hu will give us the strength to reveal those levels and to attain those heights. When we do, there is no doubt that we will live lives of Simcha and Shleimus, moving closer to the Creator and ultimately the building of the Beis HaMikdash and the arrival of the Geulah Sheleimah!