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!

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