Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Why Can’t Women Be Kohanim?

Parashat Vayikra
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Korach’s Claim Against the Kohanim Keeps Reverberating
Parashat Vayikra opens a new book in the Torah – the Book of Vayikra also called Torat Kohanim (The teachings of the Priests). This week’s parasha focuses on the different sacrifices and the kind of sins for which they atone. What is in it for women? I ask myself. In my struggle to find a hint of halacha for women in Parashat Vayikra, I thought about the importance of accepting the authority of the Kohanim as the spiritual leaders of Israel. Our current pandemic cries out for true spiritual leaders that can lead us into a paradigm shift of truly healing ourselves and the world.  During the Exodus, when the Israelites made the Golden Calf, only the Levites refused to worship it. As a result, they were appointed Hashem’s servants. Of the members of the Levite tribe, those who were descended from Moshe’s brother, Aharon, became the Kohanim. Aharon was the first kohen, and also the first Kohen Gadol (high priest). Since biblical times, the Divine appointment of Aharon as the Kohen Gadol has been disputed. Korach’s claim, “You take too much upon yourselves, for the entire congregation are all holy, and Hashem is in their midst. So why do you raise yourselves above Hashem’s assembly?” (Bamidbar 16:3), is well-known. Unfortunately, this defiance of Jewish leadership reverberates in every generation, especially in our time. An article in Israel’s secular paper, Ha’aretz (January 27, 2018) titled The Intrusive Ways Israel Maintains the Purity of the Jewish Priestly Dynasty derides the authority of the Israeli Rabbinate and their rules which are intended to preserve the purity of the line of Kohanim. It complains about the restrictions practiced in Israel on adding the surname Kohen, Cohen or Katz by non-Kohanim. The article quotes a movement called חדו"ש – חופש דתי ושויון /Chiddush: For Religious Freedom and Equality, whose aim is to undermine the Rabbinate’s power in the government of Israel. This attitude reminds us of the headspace in the time of the Judges when, “Everyone did whatever is right in his or her own eyes” (Shoftim 17:6). At that time, they appointed their own Kohanim – not from the lineage of Aharon – to officiate in Temples of Idolatry, as the previous bible verse testifies: “Now the man Micha had a house of idolatry. And he made an ephod and teraphim, and initiated one of his sons, who became his Kohen” (Ibid. 5). In a way, Chiddush is only a renewal of the idolatry of old, in the robes of democracy, emancipation and the right of the individual to do “whatever is right in his or her own eyes” (Ibid. 6).

The Claim of Individualism Hinders Creating Holy Hierarchic Communities
While the Torah places great emphasis on the freedom of choice, and the right of the individual to make her own decisions, the community of Israel is even more important. We don’t live in a vacuum, where each person can make their own hole under his or her seat, without causing the boat to sink. Therefore, it is vital in any society that personal freedom be secondary to the physical and spiritual welfare of the community. There must be restrictions on the individual’s right to choose actions that harm others such as murder and theft. In the Torah,these kinds of laws are called מִּשְׁפָּטִים/mishpatim – ‘ordinances.’ They are evident to every humanitarian society, even to those in Chiddush. Yet, the laws of the Kohanim belong to the super-rational kind of laws, called chukim, which are harder to understand, and therefore unacceptable to secular Jews. These laws impart the importance of accepting the Divine authority of the Torah, which supersedes humanly ordained rules and regulations. True spirituality recognizes the limitations of the human mind to tune into absolute truth and justice. Only the Creator and Master of the universe knows the way that leads to our ultimate good. He set up the rules which segment society, appointing the Kohanim with the responsibility to represent Israel through service in the Temple and synagogue. Opposition to a hierarchical Torah leadership undermines the entire authority of halacha. Yet, this hierarchy is based on greater responsibility rather than worthiness. Just because the Kohanim are singled out and called to the Torah first, and grace us with their special Kohanim blessing, it doesn’t imply that every Kohen is more righteous than any other person. All ranks are exterior, yet our true level of merit depends on our heart and the actions we perform through our freedom of choice. Claims of liberalism and tolerance actually do not leave room for the right of the individual to keep the laws of the Torah and establish Torah communities. Allowing people to keep poking more holes under their individual seat does not tolerate those who want to sail in an unsinkable boat.

The Sacrilege of Female Kohanot
Let’s return to our original question as to why a woman can’t be a Kohen? Several ‘progressive’ Jewish congregations refuse to accept the notion behind this question. In a certain Congregation Etz Chaim, women descended from Kohanim through their fathers’ lineage (Bat Kohen), recite the priestly blessings over the congregation, together with male Kohanim., The Kohenet Hebrew Priestess Institute opens its door to any woman, Bat Kohen or not to participate in its training program in spiritual leadership for women on a Jewish path. Kohenet reclaims the traditions of women, from prophetesses, healers, dreamers and seekers throughout the Jewish tradition. It claims to honor the ways in which divinity appears to us in female form…creating a paradigm of earth-based, embodied, feminist, Judaism. Under the leadership of ‘Rabbi’ Jill hammer who lives in Manhattan with her ‘wife’ and daughter. I agree with Kohenet in its celebration of the sacred in the body, the earth, and the cosmos, and holding the world to be an embodiment of the Shechinah – the Divine Presence. However, claiming the role of the Kohen for women only chases the Shechinah away. A Kohen, according to the Torah, is not something that anyone can just become. It is a birthright granted to the male descendants of Aharon alone. The Bible clearly preempted the opposition against the exclusiveness of the male Kohanim in no less than 77 repeated Bible verses, in which it mentions “Aharon and his sons” as the perpetual members of the priestly class. The last of these Torah verses reads as follows:

ספר דברי הימים א פרק כג פסוק יג בְּנֵי עַמְרָם אַהֲרֹן וּמֹשֶׁה וַיִּבָּדֵל אַהֲרֹן לְהַקְדִּישׁוֹ קֹדֶשׁ קָדָשִׁים הוּא וּבָנָיו עַד עוֹלָם לְהַקְטִיר לִפְנֵי הָשֵׁם לְשָׁרְתוֹ וּלְבָרֵךְ בִּשְׁמוֹ עַד עוֹלָם:
“The sons of Amram; Aharon and Moshe, and Aaron was separated, to be sanctified as most holy, he and his sons forever, to burn incense before Hashem, to serve Him, and to bless with His Name to eternity” (I Divrei HaYamim 23:13).

Thus, the Torah clearly leaves no place for the Kohenet – the female Kohen.

Exploring Renewed Halachic Rituals of Spiritual Service for Women
The fact that women can’t be Kohanim doesn’t preclude women from serving in spiritual leadership as spiritual healers, Medicine Women, Torah teachers, leaders of Women’s Prayer Circles, and more. Like Kohenet, Torah observant women reclaim the centrality of ritual as a transformative force in Jewish and human life, viewing spiritual leadership as the act of holding sacred space, time, and soul. Yet, unlike Kohenet, we exemplify through earth-based Torah rituals, geulah gatherings, supportive sisterhood, performances, soul-dance, and creative expression by women for women, all within the framework of halacha. I founded B’erot Bat Ayin 23 years ago as a halachic alternative to Jewish Renewal. My motto has always been that spirituality doesn’t have to negate Torah law. There is certainly leeway within the halacha to explore meaningful ways and renew rituals of spiritual service for women. For example, Midreshet B’erot Bat Ayin conducts prayer and women’s emuna healing circles, where we explore non-verbal ways of prayer. On Yom Kippur, we host mini mussaf prayer circles for women in which we share and discuss parts of the confession prayer. We conduct blessing circles as well as singing together and dancing. With self-confidence in our feminine spiritual role as the embodiment of the Shechina, why would we need a title such as ‘Kohenet’ or ‘Rabbi’ to express spiritual leadership?

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Must a Married Woman get her Husband’s Permission to Give a Large Donation?

Parashat Vayakhel Pekudei
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Does a Married Woman’s Money Belong to Her Husband?
We have a new custom in the Bat Ayin Central Synagogue – a practice upon which my husband frowns. Prior to the Torah reading during the High Holiday Services, when the gabbai (beadle) conducts an auction for the various honors of the Torah service, women participate equally with men in pledging their donations. Sure, women aren’t called to the Torah, in our Orthodox community. Yet, having paid for this honor, they are free to hand it over to whoever they please. They also benefit from the gabbai’s blessing following the Aliyah to the Torah, that they ‘bought.’ What’s bothering my husband about women giving pledges for tzedakah and thereby increasing the Synagogue’s donations? Being well versed in the old-school halacha, he holds that a married woman’s money belongs to her husband, and therefore, she is only permitted to donate with her husband’s consent. I, personally, have endured the consequences of such conviction during my annual speaking tours, where I, thankfully, have been bringing home large sums of money, to support Holistic Torah for Women. Yet, these amounts are gathered from numerous small checks, with the exception of a few substantial donations. Everyone has been telling me for years, that this phenomenon is because I mainly address women. In order to obtain larger donations, I must meet with men, who write the big checks. No doubt, this is the sociological reality within the frum community. Still, I dare to challenge those who hold that a married woman is only permitted to give small donations, without her husband’s permission. Is this really the halacha today? What about the case where the wife is the main breadwinner, which is not so uncommon today? What if the wife received a large money gift or inheritance from her parents? It is hard to believe that she would need her husband’s authorization to give the prescribed ma’aser (tithe). What if her husband is stingy but she is generous? Must she allow her husband to force her to act in a miserly way?

Philanthropic Biblical Women
Women have been involved in philanthropy since times bygone. This includes Jewishly observant women. Going all the way back to the Bible, we have several examples of holy women who were praised for their generosity. These women did not need to ask their husband’s permission, and in at least one example, the wife’s donation was even against her husband’s explicitly expressed will. When Naval – who was a lowlife, tightfisted, obstinate man – refused to support David and his men, who had watched over his sheep (I Shmuel 25:10-11), Avigail immediately compensated for his stinginess. ... Avigail hurried and took two hundred breads, two containers of wine, five cooked sheep, five se’ahs of roasted grain, a hundred raisin clusters, and two hundred cakes of pressed figs, and she put them on the donkeys...” (I Shmuel 25:18). The Torah praises Avigail, who held herself to the highest standards of conduct and was able to immediately assemble such a large gift, even against her husband’s wishes., David did not hesitate to receive this substantial gift from her hand, though he well knew that it was given without her husband’s consent. A less extreme example of a married woman’s charity, is the Woman of Shunam – who was called אִשָּׁה גְדוֹלָה /isha gedolah – “A prominent woman” (II Melachim 4:8), on account of her wealth, good deeds and generosity (Malbim ibid.). She insisted to support Elisha, and convinced her husband to make a special furnished chamber for him (II Melachim 4:9-10). “She was greater than all the other women in the world, because other women may be annoyed and distressed, when they see a guest in the home, and all the more so, they would not spend money on him. But she rejoiced with a guest and spent money on him” (Zohar 2:44a). When Elisha inquired how to reciprocate, before receiving a substantial donation, (Ibid.11-14), his servant told him that the Shunamite woman was barren (Ibid. 14-15). Elisha then blessed her, “And he said, ‘At this time next year, when you will be alive like now, you will be embracing a son…’ And the woman conceived and bore a son, at this time a year later, which Elisha had spoken to her” (II Melachim 4:16-17). From this we learn, that it is specifically a woman’s tzedakah and hachnasat orchim (welcoming guests) that merits having children.

May Women Give Their Own Independent Donations?
In Parashat Vayakhel, we also see how women participated generously with their resources and handiwork in the construction of the Mishkan (Tabernacle):

ספר שמות פרק לה פסוק כה
וְכָל אִשָּׁה חַכְמַת לֵב בְּיָדֶיהָ טָווּ וַיָּבִיאוּ מַטְוֶה אֶת הַתְּכֵלֶת וְאֶת הָאַרְגָּמָן אֶת תּוֹלַעַת הַשָּׁנִי וְאֶת הַשֵּׁשׁ:
“Every wise hearted woman spun with her hands, and they brought spun material: blue, purple, and crimson wool, and linen” (Shemot 35:25).

If the women’s donations had to be sanctioned by their husbands or fathers, then why is their contribution mentioned separately and not included in the general donations of all the Israelites? It seems that the Torah singles out the independent donations of the women as a role model for women throughout the generations, to be similarly inspired towards generosity and make their own independent donations. This contrasts with the words of the Shulchan Aruch, which clarify the prohibition to receive substantial donations from women:

שו"ע יורה דעה - סימן רמח גבאי צדקה אין מקבלין מהנשים ומהעבדים ומהתינוקות אלא דבר מועט אבל לא דבר גדול שחזקתו גזול או גנוב משל אחרים וכמה הוא דבר מועט. הכל לפי עושר הבעלים ועניותם והני מילי בסתמא אבל אם הבעל מוחה אפילו כל שהוא אסור לקבל מהם:
The charity gabbai, in collecting charity, should accept only a small amount from women, slaves, or children, and nothing big, which may be considered stolen from others. What amount is considered of small value depends upon the wealth or poverty of the master/husband. This applies to cases in general; but where the husband objects, it is forbidden to receive anything from them (Shulchan Aruch, Yore Deah 248).

This statement – which seems derogatory to women – is a hard pill to swallow for most contemporary women. Yet, keep in mind that this halacha pertains to the case when the husband earns the household money, and the wife wishes to donate some of it to tzedakah (Rabbi Yitzchok Basser). Furthermore, many husbands trust their wives to donate as their heart desires, except when they know that their wives can easily be swayed to give beyond the means of the family. In my opinion, before giving a substantial donation, it is proper for both husband and wife to consult with one another, so as not to cause dispute and disharmony within their marriage. This is the practiced custom in most households today. In any case, a married woman may give a small amount of her husband’s money to tzedakah, without his knowledge. We assume that the husband allows her to do so. The size of this donation depends on the financial standing of the household. It is prohibited for a husband to prevent his wife from giving charity, to the degree that other women of similar financial status give, so that she doesn’t become publicly known as stingy and miserly. If a husband prevents her from giving charity under such circumstances, the wife has a right to file for divorce. (Maharam Mintz 7; Nachalas Shiva 17:7; See also Maharsham 1:45, who writes that under such circumstances, somebody who receives charity from a wife is not obligated to return the donation). In the case where a husband is miserly and shuns his obligation to give an appropriate amount of tzedakah, a woman – after having consulted the local Rav – is permitted to force her husband to give a certain amount, based on the extent of his wealth. She may compensate for his stinginess and give on behalf of the household, even without his knowledge (Aruch Hashulchan, Yore Deah 248:11,13). This concurs with Avigail’s donation, which was against the will of her husband and behind his back. 

Halachic Authorities Sanctioning Women Making Substantial Donations
Whereas, the halachic issue pertaining to substantial donations from married women is disputed, several reputed halachic authorities do permit it, since most women today, conduct business dealings in the framework of the home economy. Therefore, they are permitted to give even large amounts to charity, because the donation to charity is included in the general permission she has regarding monetary matters (Yam Shel Shlomo citing Raavan, (Bava Kama 10:59). Although it is the obligation of the husband to support his wife, a woman has the option to waive her right to be supported by her husband, in which case, she retains whatever she earns. If the wife supported her husband from the outset of their marriage, she definitely retains the money she earns (Maharit Vol. 2 CM 67), and subsequently may give charity as she pleases. When the wife’s parents support the couple, it is a machloket (dispute) to whom the money belongs. According to one authoritative view, support given to the couple by the wife’s parents is intended solely to be for the wife’s benefit, and therefore it belongs to the wife (Maharsham vol. 4, 92). When a married woman earns her own income, especially if she is the main breadwinner of the family, several halachic authorities permit her to give whatever money she chooses to tzedakah. This is because, if she is the breadwinner, she can assume that her husband gives her permission to make any donations she wants. Even according to the view that the money is technically his, we presume that he gives her permission to donate as she sees fit. Otherwise, if he were to protest his wife’s generosity, she might discontinue earning money (Shevet Halevi Vol. 2, 118, quoting Maharshal). I hope this explains why women, who have their own income, may make independent donation pledges, of any amount, in the Bat Ayin Central Synagogue, as well as anywhere else! Perhaps, after all, I won’t have to meet with men, in order to get the big checks for Midreshet B’erot Bat Ayin!

Thursday, March 12, 2020

What Do I Need to Know About Aromatics and the Temple Incense?

Parashat Ki Tisa
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Why do we Recite Blessings on Pleasant Scents?
As part of my weekly Herbal Workshop, we smell herbs and learn about the various blessings to be recited over aromatic plants. I’m surprised that the four different blessings for diverse pleasant-scented items are so unfamiliar to most of my students, even to those who grew up in Torah-observant homes. This may be another symptom of our long-winded exile, in which we have become so alienated from nature. As part of my personal mission, I enjoy teaching these important halachot, that help reconnect us to nature, and bring about redemption – when once again our souls will be uplifted by the sweet scent of the Temple Incense. As is known, the sense of smell is the most spiritual of senses, since it was the only sense not employed and contaminated by eating from the Tree. How do we know that we must recite a bracha (blessing) on a fragrance? Because it states, “Let the entire neshama praise Hashem” (Tehillim 150:6). What exists in the world that the soul enjoys, but not the body? Only fragrance (Babylonian Talmud, Berachot 43b). This teaches us that we must praise Hashem even for the enjoyment of the soul. What is the enjoyment exclusively for the neshama? This is the sense of smell (Mishnah Berurah, Orach Chaim 216). The reason the neshama gets enjoyment from fragrance in this world is that it is the food of the neshama in the Garden of Eden. The enjoyment of the neshama is greater than the enjoyment of the body, for the enjoyment of the body is temporary but the enjoyment of the soul is perpetual. Therefore, we don’t recite an after-bracha for fragrance. We also don’t bless shecheyanu (blessing recited before enjoying a new fruit in its season) on aromatics, since the soul is eternal. Therefore, a new herb of the season is not considered new, as scent is imprinted eternally in the soul (Ben Ish Chai, Hilachot Shana Rishona, Parashat VaEtchanan). There is furthermore a connection between scent and spirit through the Hebrew word, רֵיחַ/rey’ach – ‘smell’ which is cognate with the word רוּחַ/ruach – ‘spirit.’

Blessings on Various Pleasant-Smelling Plants and Perfumes
Most people are aware of the general blessing for various scents, …boreh minei b’samim – ‘Creator of different types of aromatics,’ which we recite at the Havdalah ceremony. During this ritual, we partake of a pleasant-smelling spice in order to strengthen the neshama, that just experienced leaving the blessed realm of Shabbat, to face the routine of the week. Since Havdalah is recited universally by Jews, who may not be so well versed in plant botany, the Ashkenazi halacha requires reciting the general blessing on fragrance for Havdalah, rather than the particular blessing for the specific aromatic. This ensures that no one inadvertently recites the wrong blessing.

The four specific blessings for pleasant scents are:
1.  בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה הָשֵׁם אֱלֹקֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, בּוֹרֵא עֲצֵי בְשָׂמִים/Baruch Ata Hashem Elokeinu Melech ha’olam boreh atzei besamim – ‘Blessed are You Hashem… Creator of fragrant trees.’
2.   בּוֹרֵא עִשְּבֵּי בְּשָֹמִים בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה הָשֵׁם אֱלֹקֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם,/… boreh isvei besamim  ‘…Creator of  fragrant herbs.’
3.     בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה הָשֵׁם אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם הַנּוֹתֵן רֵיחַ טוֹב בַּפֵּרוֹת/…hanoten reyach tov baperot ‘… Who gives a good fragrance to fruit.’
4.   בּוֹרֵא מִינֵי בְשָֹמִים בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה הָשֵׁם אֱלֹקֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם,/… boreh minei besamim  ‘…Creator of  various kinds of aromatics.’

Brief Explanation of the Parameters for the Various Blessings on Fragrance
A tree (1) is distinguished from an herb (2) by having a hard, woody stem that remains from year to year. Cloves and cinnamon sticks derive from a tree and we therefore recite …boreh atzei besamim (1) before enjoying their scent. However, if they are crushed or ground and are primarily meant to spice foods, we recite boreh minei besamim (4) before smelling them. (Halacha Berura, Chapter 216, Subsection 17). When enjoying the fragrance of fruit such as oranges, lemons and etrog, we praise Hashem for giving a good fragrance to fruit (3). We recite the general blessing (4) over a pleasant scent which derives from an animal source. An example of this is musk perfume, which is an animal-derivative (made from the blood or other secretions of animals). On synthetic perfume most Ashkenazi poskim hold that we don’t recite any blessing at all. Yet, for those who enjoy that kind of scent, according to Rabbi Ovadia Yosef  the general blessing (4) is recited. When we are not sure whether a plant is considered an herb or a tree, we may also recite this blessing – ‘Creator of different types of aromatics’ (4). However, we should minimize resorting to this safety net, as it is our responsibility to find out the nature of the various pleasures that we enjoy so that we can make the highest rectification, by reciting its specific blessing.

Is There a Halachic Issue Involved in Burning Incense Today?
Today, people mainly burn incense in their homes in order to produce a pleasant fragrance. Why should this be a halachic concern? In the time of the Mishna, fragrant spices were brought at the completion of the meal, as a kind of olfactory desert called ‘mugmar’ (Mishna Berachot 6:6). Yet, throughout time, certain people burned incense as an offering to spirits and demons. To this day, this is practiced in occult, voodoo and wiccan circles. By creating a potent fragrant aroma, they attract malevolent entities that have power to extract the life-force energy from fragrance. Incense can be burned for the pleasant fragrance, yet many types of incense are manufactured for religious purposes and are intended to be offered in the name of a certain god. This may actually be written on the package itself (Rabbi Ariel Bar Tzaddok, Kosher Torah). For example, the incense of, is used as an offering to avoda zara (idolatry), (as attested to by the owner of the company). In The Story Behind, they mention that their incense is “considered to give a divine boost to invocation.” They also have photos of buddhas and the like all over their website. However, their actual incense is not necessarily sold for the purpose of idolatry. Therefore, halachically, it is not forbidden to buy their products. Had the incense been previously used for avoda zara, it would be forbidden to get any benefit from it. In defense of burning incense, would we say that just because certain idolatrous cultures use prayer shawls and head coverings similar to our tallit and kippa, does this preclude orthodox Jewish men from wearing them?  However, regarding numerous questions associated with avoda zara, in particular when technically it isn’t avoda zara, the poskim suggest that we nevertheless try to distance ourselves from avoda zara as much as possible. Although, it is permitted to buy incense such as darshan incense, it is not recommended. So, I suggest buying your incense from a different company that is divested of any trace of idol worship.

The Power of Incense to Engender Teshuva
The holy aromatics appear in Parashat Ki Tisa in two contexts. First, in the holy anointing oil (Shemot 30:23-25), and then in the קְטֹרֶת/ketoret – ‘Temple Incense’ (Shemot 30:34-38). The root letters of the word קְטֹרֶת/ketoret – from the Aramaic term קטר/keter – has the same meaning as the Hebrew wordקֶשֶׁר /kesher – ‘bond.’ Thus, the incense offering establishes a bond between G-d’s infinite dimensions and the spiritual Cosmos (Maggid Devarav LeYaakov; Likkutei Torah). The Shelah Hakodesh likewise writes that the ketoret had the special power to connect the Jewish people with their Father in Heaven (Masechet Ta’anit Drush, Matot Masei). Each of the aromatics connect together and are unified when they go up in a cloud of smoke. We no longer recognize the individual plants, for each has vanished into the greater whole. This causes a yichud shalem, (complete unity) elevating the five parts of our soul: Nefesh, Ruach, Neshama, Chaya and Yechida, which together comprise the gematria (numerical value) of the words שֶׁמֶן/shemen and קְטֹרֶת/ketoret! (1099) (Brit Kehunat Olam, Ner Mitzvah 6). The incense was an enlightened remedy to purify people from sin. Anyone who smelled its fragrance, when burned on the altar, would have thoughts of repentance. His heart would be purified of negative thoughts and from the defilement of the negative impulse. This would break the power of the Other Side so that it could not accuse Israel. Therefore, the incense altar is referred to as a מִּזְבֵּחַ/mizbe’ach – ‘altar.’ [The word miz-be’ach derives from the Hebrew זֶבַח/zevach, which denotes slaughter.] Even though no sacrifice was slaughtered on the incense altar, it was called a mizbe’ach, because it was a place where the Other Side was slaughtered (Yalkut Meam Loez). The word, קְטֹרֶת/ketoret (709) together with its four letters equals the gematria of תְּשׁוּבָה/teshuva – ‘repentance’ (713) (Kohelet Ya’acov, ערך ק"ט). May learning about the ketoret arouse the spiritual ketoret, which exists within our soul as the power of teshuva. May it empower us to rectify everything negative and undesirable, like the unifying incense that burned in the Holy Temple!

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Whom Does the Choice of our Clothes Affect?

Parashat Tetzave 
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Letting our Apparel Reflect Our True Essence
Dressing modestly is a great challenge for our generation. We seek freedom to the highest degree. No-one is going to tell us what to do and how to dress, especially not the men! Pamphlets with pictures of modest necklines, certified by lists of prominent Rabbis, proclaiming that women’s immodesty and licentiousness prevent the final redemption, only turn certain women further away from the Torah. A hammer on the head never helps in the long run. It also won’t go off well, telling women – even ever so softly – that we have a mitzvah “not to put a stumbling block in front of the blind” (Vayikra 19:14), and that certain men have ‘blind spots’ when it comes to seeing immodest women. Many young women of today won’t hear of dressing a certain way for the sake of others, even for the sake of protecting others. It’s all about being in touch with our own inner essence and expressing what is truly right for ourselves. I have heard many young women exclaim, “My clothing must reflect who I am and that’s it. I don’t want to dress in a certain way in order to protect others from immorality. The men need to grow up, take responsibility for themselves and learn to control their own negative urges. Their weakness is not my problem.” Yet when you speak to these same women from the perspective of self-dignity, explaining how dressing modestly is for their own benefit, and how to take pride in their spiritual accomplishments, rather than in their physical body, then you may get their attention. G-d has endowed all of us with certain gifts. Physical beauty is one of G-d’s gifts, that we received without having to work for it. Yet, it is our hard work and perseverance to overcome challenges, that refine our personality and indicate who we really are. Inner traits such as humility, kindness, devotion and faith, rather than our feminine curves, which reflect our true essence. Why would we distract others from knowing our inner essence by highlighting our physical attributes through immodest attire?

Garments for Making a Positive Impression
In addition to reflecting who we really are, garments throughout the generations represent people’s position and task in life. We need to choose practical clothes, that serve us best and are most suitable for our particular job. There are innumerable different work uniforms for various companies, from corporate apparel to retail-inspired; wrinkle-free garments for customer-facing roles to light and durable work shirt options for dirtier jobs. Whereas, house painters may wear old jeans and stained shirts, doctors wear white laboratory coats. Uniforms speak volumes when it comes to maintaining a consistent, professional image. Uniforms make a positive impact and are what customers expect. Thus, in the workforce, people dress not only to express their true selves, but mainly to make a certain favorable professional impression on others. The garments of the Kohanim, who served in the Temple, was no exception from this rule:

ספר שמות פרק כח פסוק ב וְעָשִׂיתָ בִגְדֵי קֹדֶשׁ לְאַהֲרֹן אָחִיךָ לְכָבוֹד וּלְתִפְאָרֶת:
“You shall make holy garments for your brother Aharon, for honor and glory” (Shemot 28:2).

What is the significance that the garments of the Kohanim had to be לְכָבוֹד וּלְתִפְאָרֶת/l’chavod u’letiferet – ‘for honor and for splendor’? Aharon had to command the respect of his fellow Israelites. For this reason, the priestly garments had to be glorious and majestic. Through these garments, the Israelites understood that Hashem wished to honor Aharon, and that he was worthy of being a chariot for the Divine Presence (Ha’emek d’var ibid). Thus, even external beauty is part and parcel of Judaism. The Temple is so magnificent and awe-inspiring, in order to open our hearts to return to Hashem (Nachshoni).  

The Dual Purpose of the Glorious Priestly Garments
Yet the garments of the kohanim had a dual purpose: They were not only for the sake of Israel but also for the sake of the Kohen himself. The choice of our dress influences both our own mindset and the way others perceive us. 1. External beauty serves as a means of magnifying the glory of Hashem and His service. The garments of the Kohanim imbue all who look upon them with the glory and splendor of G-d and his Holy Temple. Just as a king has guards who wear uniforms that signify to the passerby that the person who lives in the building is of great importance, so too, the Kohanim, by wearing their uniforms, reveal the importance of their work and their “boss.” They inspire awe and respect, making it clear to all Israel that Hashem wishes to honor Aharon, and that he is worthy of being a vehicle for the Divine Presence. When people come to the Temple, and meet the Kohen dressed in his glorious garments, their hearts are inspired to return to Hashem. 2. The glory of the priestly garments influences the thoughts and intentions of the Kohanim, ensuring that the Kohen has a proper state of mind during the Temple service. When he wears special clothing for the occasion, whatever part of his body he looks at will arouse him to realize that the presence of G-d is to be found in the Temple, and to remember before Whom he stands (Sefer HaChinuch, Mitzvah 99). According to Malbim the word כָבוֹד/chavod – “honor” indicates the Kohen’s superior spiritual level (for himself), whereas the word תִפְאָרֶת/Tiferet – “glory” reflects the effect that the devotions of such a person can have on others (for the sake of Israel).

Garments for Profound World Transformation
The effect of the attire of the Kohanim was more than skin deep. The Kohen Gadol’s garments represent another aspect: the perfection of humanity. Each exquisite garment was fashioned by Moshe according to the Divine directives, in order to affect a profound world transformation. Each of the Kohen Gadol’s eight garments had the ability to rectify the iniquities of Israel and return them to their original perfection in Eden before the sin. The כְּתֹנֶת/ketonet  – “tunic” atoned for the sin of murder; מִכְנְסָיִים/michnasayim – “pants” would atone for adultery; the מְעִיל/me’il – “robe” for lashon hara (evil speech); the אַבְנֵט/avnet – “sash” rectified impure thoughts; the אֵפוֹד/efod – “apron” was for idol-worship, the חשֶׁן/choshen “breastplate” atoned for unfair judgement; מִצְנֶפֶת/mitznefet –“turban” rectified haughtiness; whereas, the צִּיץ/tzitz “the golden head plate” atoned for brazenness (Babylonian Talmud, Zevachim 88b).

Atones for
כְּתֹנֶת/Ketonet – Tunic
מִכְנְסַיִם/Michnasayim – Pants
מְעִיל/Me’il –Robe
Lashon Hara
אַבְנֵט/Avnet – Sash
Impure thoughts
אֵפֹד/Efod –Apron
חֹשֶׁן/Choshen – Breastplate
Unfair judgement
מִּצְנֶפֶת/mitznefet – Turban
צִיץ/Tzitz – Golden Headplate

Choice of Modest, Multicolored Materials
Returning to the topic of dressing modestly, we can learn from the impact of the garments of the Kohanim, that what we chose to wear is not only to reflect our inner essence, but also to put us in a proper mindset for our role in life, as well as to inspire others positively, rather than having a negative effect on them. We don’t live in a vacuum – in our own little bubble disconnected from others. We must take responsibility for our actions and realize that what we do and what we wear do indeed influence others. Therefore, we must be smart in our choice of dress, by all means avoiding seductive styles that may allure ‘the weaker sex’ into depravity. Just as we are responsible for the effect that our actions have on others, why should our choice of dress be any different? Clothing can give us respect and honor and help us to get into the mindset of our role in life as a Bat Melech (Daughter of the King). Although, we have so many wonderful and exciting choices of how to express our soul in various modest, multicolored materials, textures and design, in a sense our clothes serve as a divine uniform to assist us in our divine task on earth. Although I’m aware that it is not ‘politically correct,’ I venture to recommend that we dress up for the part of striving to be a servant of G-d in our everyday lives. Perhaps with some effort on our part and help from Above, our own personal service may be accepted by G-d like the service of the Kohen in the Temple.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Why Do so Many Children Leave the Torah Path?

Parashat Teruma
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Jewish Education Starts at Home from the Moment of birth 
Educating our children the Torah way is a great challenge, especially in our time. So many distractions are accessible: from computer games and smartphones to popular punk-styles and green nail-polish. Sadly, even in religious communities, during Friday night services, boisterous teenagers gather together outside of the synagogue- some may even be smoking. This phenomenon can happen to the best of families. Even a Rabbi’s daughter may be walking around in a miniskirt, flirting with the neighbor’s son. People who adhere to a more modern outlook may blame it on large families, claiming that the parents don’t have time to give each child proper attention. The more Yeshivish among us might blame it on the secular influence exuding from billboards, shopping-malls, computers and smartphones. But it seems like it hardly makes any difference to what spectrum of Jewish observance a family may belong. No-one is immune to the risk of their children leaving the Torah path. So, what can we do to reverse this ‘going off the derech syndrome’? Without being an expert on the topic and with no research on the subject matter under my belt, I will still venture to say that we need more ‘Jewish-mother-presence’ in our homes. Today, when mothers are often working full time, the family bank- account may benefit, but the children suffer. Just as charity starts at home, Jewish education starts at home from the moment of birth. 

Connecting Children to the Torah of the Home – Like the Cherubs
In Parashat Teruma there is an allusion of the importance of giving our children a proper Torah education. The cherubs on the Ark represent our children:

ספר שמות פרק כה פסוק יח עָשִׂיתָ שְׁנַיִם כְּרֻבִים זָהָב מִקְשָׁה תַּעֲשֶׂה אֹתָם מִשְּׁנֵי קְצוֹת הַכַּפֹּרֶת:
(יט) וַעֲשֵׂה כְּרוּב אֶחָד מִקָּצָה מִזֶּה וּכְרוּב אֶחָד מִקָּצָה מִזֶּה מִן הַכַּפֹּרֶת תַּעֲשׂוּ אֶת הַכְּרֻבִים עַל שְׁנֵי קְצוֹתָיו:
 “You shall make two golden cherubim; you shall make them of hammered work, from the two ends of the ark cover. And make one cherub from the one end and the other cherub from the other end; from the ark cover you shall make the cherubim on its two ends (Shemot 25:18-19).

“Each of the cherubs had the image of a child’s face” (Babylonian Talmud Sukkah 5b).

“One in the likeness of a boy and the other of a girl” (Zohar Vol. II, 277b).

The child faced Keruvim (cherubs) were attached to the Holy Ark containing the Tablets of the Torah, to teach us that our children are beautiful when they are attached to the Torah. With shining faces they bring the Shechina into the world. However, when they stand alone, detached from Torah, they can literally become angels of destruction- terrorizing and destroying everything around them. Torah is life. Being devoid of Torah and left to the winds of the world cause the spirit to dim and darkness to reign. What does it mean to be attached to the Torah? It’s not just about learning Torah verses by heart or being an expert on Talmudic studies. It’s the environment and attitude at home that matters and has a lasting impact. It permeates every conversation and every family related decision. Do you run a Torah based home, or do other things act as the family compass, with all eyes pointing towards it?  By giving our children Torah, we give them life (Rav Moshe Mordechai Epstein).

The Mother’s Role in Torah Education
It is interesting to note that the keruvim were situated in the holy of holies, inside the Temple. In Hebrew, the Temple is called Beit Hamikdash – literally meaning ‘Home of Holiness.’ It’s the home of the Shechina – the Divine Indwelling Feminine Presence. The Temple in Jerusalem is modeled after the first Jewish home – Sarah’s Tent. The Temple vessels correspond to her challah, and Shabbat candle. The Cloud of Glory permeating the Temple corresponds to the cloud hanging over Sarah’s tent (Rashi, Bereishit 24:67); (See, Women at the Crossroads: A Woman’s Perspective on the Weekly Torah Portion p. 70). Every woman has a responsibility to make her home a miniature Temple – nothing less will serve as the right environment to raise children attached to the Torah, just like the cherubs fastened to the lid of Holy Ark of the eternal Torah in the “Home of Holiness.” Just as the Divine Feminine Presence permeated the Home of Holiness (Temple), so do our children need the feminine presence of their mother in order to stay attached to the Torah. “Hear, my son, the instruction of your father (mussar avicha) and do not abandon the teaching of your mother (torat imecha)” (Mishlei 1:18). Torat imecha, the lived experience of Torah, is built first at home. No au pair, babysitter, or after school club can be considered a viable alternative to spending quality time with Mommy! I’m not saying the mother must be present 24/7 and never take a babysitter. My point is that in modern times, with women fulltime in the work market, children are not getting enough mothering. Whereas, the father’s instruction is an intellectual-moral one, by teaching the children mussar – integrating Torah ethics in correct actions – the mother teaches that Judaism expresses itself not only in formal compliance with Torah-law but also in a living experience. “She [my mother] taught me that there is a flavor, a scent and warmth to mitzvot. I learned from her the most important thing in life – to feel the presence of the Almighty and the gentle pressure of His hand resting upon my frail shoulders” (Rav Soloveitchik, A Tribute to the Rebbitzen of TalneTradition 17:2 [Spring 1978], pp. 76-77). It is specifically through Torat Imecha, the mother who brings the experience of G-d and Torah to life, that we can link children to Torah for life.