Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Our Speech Builds Heaven and Earth

Ask the Rebbetzin – Parashat Tazria-Metzora

Dear Rebbetzin,
We hear so much about the seriousness of the sin of lashon hara (evil speech). Is it true that through speaking lashon hara one may transgress 31 commandments: 14 positive and 17 negative?  I find it really hard to never speak badly about others, but afterwards I feel guilty about transgressing so many Torah prohibitions. Can you please share some Torah nuggets with me that will strengthen me in guarding my tongue? 
Devorah Harrington (name changed)

Dear Devorah,
Yom Atzmaut (Independence Day) Hike
It is very good that you seek chizuk (strengthening yourself) in guarding your tongue. This mitzvah is indeed central in the Torah. As you write, there are 31 Torah commandments regarding evil speech, and with just a few words, a person could easily transgress several of both ‘do’s’ and ‘don’t’s.’ The reason why speech is so important in the Torah is because it is the ability to speak that defines human beings. Through our speech, we distinguish ourselves from the animals. In the creation of Adam, it states, “The human being became a living spirit” (Bereishit 2:7). Targum Unkelos translates this phrase to Aramaic: “V’havet b’Adam l’Ruach Mamlela” which means, “and Adam became a speaking spirit.” King David extols, “Who is the man that desires life and loves his days to see good, guard your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit” (Tehillim 34:13). Rabbi Yisroel Meir Kagan, who revived the concern for guarding our tongue in modern times, received the nickname Chafetz Chaim (the title of his book on the topic) which means “Desirer of Life.” He explains that since speech is the tool of our craft with which we perfect ourselves, we need to pay special attention not to mess up our precious tools with which we express ourselves in Torah and Tefilah (prayer).

The Tool of Our Craft
Whereas Bilam’s tool was supposed to be his sword (Bamidbar 31:8), the distinctive tool of the Jewish people is our power of speech. Rashi explains that Bilam came against Israel exchanging his craft (the sword) for their craft (the mouth) – for Israel conquers only through prayer and petition… However, the craft of the gentiles is the sword, as it is states, “By your sword you shall live” (Bereishit 27:40), (Rashi, Bamidbar 22:23). The power of speech was given to the Jewish people, to encounter the awe-inspiring King of Kings through Torah and Tefilah to bless, thank, praise and glorify Him. Just as an artisan is unable to produce vessels worthy of the king without his special craftsman’s tools, or with broken and destroyed tools, likewise, we are unable to produce beautiful words of Torah and Tefilah with a mouth and tongue that has been defiled through evil speech. Only the artisan, whose tools are perfect and good, properly sharpened and shined, will be able to produce arts and crafts of the highest caliber. Through words of holiness, which we speak in this world before Hashem, we can create upper worlds as well as holy angels, who will afterwards become advocates for our souls. These higher worlds, created by means of Torah and Mitzvot, are dependent on the power of speech with which Hashem created the world. Hashem made us partners with Him in the continuous creation of the worlds through our power of speech. This is our great craftsman’s tool, through which we may can build heaven and earth, as it states, “I have put my words in your mouth, and I have covered you in the shadow of my hand, that I may plant the heavens, and lay the foundations of the earth and say to Zion, you are my people” (Yesha’yahu 51:16). (The Chafetz Chaim, The Gate of Commemoration, Chapter 10, the greatness of Guarding the Tongue through which one sanctifies speech).

Rather than Judging Others, Find the Same Shortcoming in Yourself and Repent
In order to avoid evil speech we need to accustom ourselves to stop judging others unfavorably. Often when we notice misgivings in others, it is because we ourselves have a share in this same shortcoming. If it happened that we saw or heard about someone else’s sin, we need to realize that we may have a tinge of that sin ourselves. This should motivate us to rectify ourselves. Scripture states that the remedy for this is to “guard the tongue.” Although it is really hard to overcome the urge to speak lashon hara as it states in the Talmud, “We all fall prey to a tinge of lashon hara” (Baba Batra 165a). Still, we need work on ourselves, and rather than disparage the other person, realize that Hashem made us see and notice this sin in order to remove ourselves from the evil and rectify ourselves to become good. Through this repentance, also the sinner will repent, because through unifying with him, we can include him in our repentance, since we are all one person. Then we will cause him to be included in “and do good” that he will transform the evil to good and achieve the character trait of “seek peace and pursue it” (Tehillim 34:15); (Toldot Ya’acov Yosef, in the name of the Ba’al Shem Tov, Parashat Lech Lecha). Even if we already began to speak lashon hara and we feel that everything is lost, just as when we begin to eat cookies, we may feel we that it is too late to stop. This is not so. For every single word that we could have added but avoided, a supernal light is created. This is even so if we already spoke 100 words of lashon hara, but overcame the urge to speak one more word.  The Vilna Gaon teaches, “Every single moment a person averts his mouth he merits the hidden light, which is so great that no angel or any creature can even imagine.” 

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

How Can I Keep Family Purity When the Closest Mikvah is 2000km Away?

Ask the Rebbetzin - Parashat Shemini

Dear Rebbetzin,
I really want to keep the mitzvah of family purity, but where I live there is no ritual bath. The closest mikvah is 2000 km away, which would take about 25 hours to drive by car. What would be a solution? Perhaps I could use the ocean or a lake, as a mikvah since I don’t have a regular mikvah available. How would that work? Do you just dip in and say a blessing?
Maya Waternov (name changed)

Dear Maya,
It is wonderful that you are so dedicated to keep the laws of family purity in spite of the fact that you live far from a Jewish community with a proper mikvah. Throughout Jewish history, women have gone into great trouble in order to keep the mitzvah of family purity, sometimes even at the risk of their very lives. Using the Mikvah is so essential as it our primary connection with the Garden of Eden. All the water in the world ultimately has its root in the river that emerged from Eden (Bechorot 55a, Malbim, Bereishit 2:10). This river is the spiritual source of all water. After Adam was driven out of Eden, he repented by sitting by this river in order to maintain a link with the Garden (Pirkey d’Rabbi Eliezer 20). The word מִקְוֵה/Mikvah has the same letters asקוֹמָה  /Komah – the Hebrew word from rising or standing tall. Through the Mikvah we can rise from our fallen state, and reestablish a link with our perfected state in Eden. This explains why the Mikvah must be linked to a natural water source. The most primal forms of mikvaot are the natural bodies of water such as oceans, rivers, wells, and spring-fed lakes. They have the power to purify. However, these waters may be inaccessible or dangerous, not to mention the problems of rough weather and lack of privacy. Therefore, wherever a proper mikvah is available that is certainly preferred. But what can you do if there isn’t a proper mikvah in your neighborhood?

Safety Concerns for Using the Ocean as a Mikvah
ספר ויקרא פרק יא (לו) אַךְ מַעְיָן וּבוֹר מִקְוֵה מַיִם יִהְיֶה טָהוֹר וְנֹגֵעַ בְּנִבְלָתָם יִטְמָא:
“Nevertheless a spring or a cistern, in which water is collected shall be pure, but whoever touches such a carcass within it shall be impure (Vayikra 11:36).

The construction of a mikvah is very complex, and there is an entire tractate of the Mishnah called Mikvaot devoted to this topic. As we learn in Parashat Shemini, a mikvah must be connected to a natural spring, or a natural well, or be connected to a cistern of rainwater (Mikvaot 7:1). Oceans qualify for they are considered springs, as do rivers that do not originate from rainwater. If you’re using a river or spring that’s made up mainly of rainwater, you need to find a part of the water that is not moving. The water also needs to be deep enough for you to immerse your whole body at once. Immersing in the mikvah for family purity must ideally be done at night. Deep oceans with strong currents can be dangerous. If you can’t swim, an ocean mikvah is not for you. Make sure that whatever body of water you’re using is safe, and if necessary find out about the schedule of the tides so you won’t be suddenly caught at high tide. You also need to ensure the area is well lit and safe at night, at the very least you need to bring strong flashlights. If the area is not safe at night but is safe during the day, some rabbinic authorities allow for immersion during the day. This would be a good thing to ask your rabbi.

How to Overcome the Challenges of Using the Ocean as a Mikvah
There are several challenges when using the ocean as a mikvah:
1. There is no mikvah attendant to watch and check that you are completely immersed in the water for each dunk.
2. There is no adjacent room to bathe and remove everything separating you from the water.
3. You have to make sure no man will see you going naked into the ocean.
4. There is sometimes wind that may tangle the hair.

I highly recommend to bring a girlfriend (preferably someone married) who will act as your mikvah ‘lady’ at the ocean. This woman should be Jewish and over the age of 12 (the age that constitutes adulthood for women according to Jewish law). Some rabbinic authorities allow your husband to fill this role, if no woman is available. Prior to immersing, your mikvah attendant needs to check you as well as can be done with a flashlight, to ensure that there is nothing separating between you and the water, like fallen hair etc. She also needs to ensure that you are immersing deeply enough in the water so that your entire body including the top of your head and hair are covered when you dunk. This is especially vital if you have long hair, some of which may float above the water. You will need to go to a beach that is not populated and it needs to be dark. It may be permissible to dunk in the water with a very lose-fitting dress, if you cannot be sure that there won’t be any men on the beach who may see you. This again is a question for your rabbi.

Guidelines for Preparing Yourself for Ritual Immersion
On your mikvah night, prepare as you usually do. Soak in a luscious bath (not a shower) for at least half an hour to soften up any kind of dirt, and dead skin. Make sure to remove all jewelry, hair bands, elastics, pins, false teeth, eyelashes, temporary dental fillings, nail polish, contact lenses, and dry scab on old wounds. Wash your entire body and hair well with soap and shampoo. Do not use conditioner, as it will leave a coating on your hair. Clean your ears with a cue-tip. Brush and comb your hair until the comb passes through your hair easily to ensure there are no knots. Comb your pubic hair, the hair in your armpits and even your eyebrows. Cut your fingernails and toenails. After you cut your fingernails, they should not be visible above the tips of your fingers when you turn your hands towards your face. If long fingernails are part of your everyday look, make sure they are equally long and smooth. Clean your fingernails well. Brush your teeth and use dental floss. The time of preparation varies from person to person.  Usually it takes about one hour, but for some people it can take almost two hours.

Ocean Immersion
Using the ocean as a mikvah is not as romantic as it sounds. I recommend finding out where there is a safe and quiet area with calm water. Depending on the privacy of the area you’re using, you may want to wear a long robe to get into the water. Then, when you’ve gotten to a point where the water is deep enough you can take off your robe under water and hand it to your helper. Before you dunk, shake off any sand or mud that may have clung to the bottom of your feet (you may want to walk out in flip-flops and take them off just before you dunk). Remember to choose a spot that is light enough that your helper can see that you’ve completely immersed.

Go out into the water wearing your robe right before sunset. Swim around and get comfortable for a little while. Then right after the sun sets, take off your dress and dunk, while your friend is right by you to watch.  When your head emerges from the water say the following blessing with full intention:

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה הָשֵׁם אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, אֲשֶׁר קִדְּשָׁנוּ בְּמִצְוֹתָיו וְצִוָּנוּ עַל הַטְּבִילָה:
Baruch ata Ado-nai Elo-heinu melech haolam asher kideshanu b'mitzvotav v'tzivanu al hatevila
Blessed are You O Hashem our G-d, King of the universe, Who has made us holy with His commandments and commanded us to immerse.

Transformation through Water
Using a Mikvah is one of the main factors distinguishing a Jew from non-Jew. A Mikvah is actually more important than synagogue. A congregation that does not have its own Mikvah does not even have the halachic status of a community. The Mikvah represents womb. The world’s most primary state was water: “The spirit of G-d was hovering over the water” (Bereishit 1:2). Thus the water is the womb of creation. Emerging from a Mikvah is very much like a process of rebirth. “A convert who embraces Judaism is like a newborn child” (Yevamot 22a). The convert’s first step into Judaism involves immersing in a Mikvah. The consecration of Aaron and his sons to become Kohanim involved immersion in a Mikvah. Thus, the Mikvah facilitates a change of status – an elevation from one state to another. Water is the essence of impermanence, while ego is the essence of permanence. When dunking in the Mikvah, we place ourselves in the state of non-existence and non-life. Since breath is the essence of life, submerging in a Mikvah momentarily without being able to breath, makes us enter the realm of the non-living, to emerge like one reborn.  Mikvah can’t be a vessel or tub but must be built directly in the ground, for in a sense, the Mikvah also represents the grave. We immerse temporarily into a state of nonliving, so that we emerge resurrected with new status.  In Hebrew, the word קֶבֶר/Kever means both womb and grave.  Both are endpoints in the cycle of life. Our sages liken a person who immerses in the Mikvah to seeds planted in the ground. The seeds return to their source where they can once again begin the cycle of growth.

Hashem is Our Ultimate Mikvah
משנה מסכת יומא פרק ח משנה ט
מַר רַבִּי עֲקִיבָא, אַשְׁרֵיכֶם יִשְׂרָאֵל, לִפְנֵי מִי אַתֶּם מִטַּהֲרִין, וּמִי מְטַהֵר אֶתְכֶם, אֲבִיכֶם שֶׁבַּשָּׁמַיִם, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר, (יחזקאל לו) וְזָרַקְתִּי עֲלֵיכֶם מַיִם טְהוֹרִים וּטְהַרְתֶּם. וְאוֹמֵר, (ירמיה יז) מִקְוֵה יִשְׂרָאֵל ה’, מַה מִּקְוֶה מְטַהֵר אֶת הַטְּמֵאִים, אַף הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא מְטַהֵר אֶת יִשְׂרָאֵל:
Rabbi Akiva said, “Happy are you, Israel. Before whom do you purify yourselves? Who purifies you? Your Father in heaven!” It is thus written, “I will sprinkle pure water upon you, and you shall be pure” (Yechezkiel 36:25).

It also states, “G-d, Hashem is the Mikvah of Israel” (Yirmeyahu 14:8). Just as the Mikvah purifies the impure, so does G-d purify Israel (Mishna Yoma 8:9). What does it mean that G-d is Israel’s Mikvah? The word מקוה/Mikvah is related to the word תקוה/tikvah – hope. The Mikvah gives us the ability to transcend the bonds of time and become reborn as a new person. Hashem is our Mikvah and hope for the perfected future. When we hope that a future event will happen, we free ourselves from the limitations of time. G-d is our ultimate Mikvah, which extends beyond time. His unity gathers past and future into the present moment. The word Mikvah literally means gathering. When we dunk into the cleansing waters of the Mikvah, let’s keep up our hope in Hashem, Who purifies us. Then we can truly become transformed and let all our past wrongdoings dissolve into the expiating waters of the Mikvah by our resolve to emerge pure and reborn.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Why Does Preparing for Pesach have to be such Agonizing Slavery?

Ask the Rebbetzin - Chol HaMoed Pesach
Printable Version

Dear Rebbetzin,
Growing up in a yekkish (German Jewish) home I naturally became a ‘neat freak.’ Soon after Tu b’Shevat I start Pesach preparations as it takes me and my cleaning crew about two month to get my home together. For the past ten years, I have been following my plan to get each room ready by a certain date. The cabinets are reorganized, the walls, lamps and light switches scrubbed down until each room shines. The last week is reserved for the kitchen. That week requires the most intense cleaning eradicating any residue of chametz (leavened) by means of my weapons of dish soap, oven cleaner and bleach. This year the devoted chief of my cleaning crew deserted me, and I was at a complete loss, as she is totally irreplaceable. No one else did a satisfactory job and I was devastated. Why did Hashem do this to me? Why did I, who cared so much about cleaning my home to the dot, have to be left without my chief cleaner upon whom I relied so much all these years? Why did I have to go through this agonizing slavery almost alone in my kitchen for hours without end?
Nokia Weiss (name changed)

Dear Nokia,
I very much sympathize with you in your desire to make your home super kosher for Pesach. Although dust is not chametz and the woman of the home is not a Pesach sacrifice, I do believe that spring-cleaning is hidur (beautifying) the mitzvah of cleaning for Pesach, as long as we are able to do it with enthusiasm and happiness. It sounds like you experienced some major challenges and obstacles in your Pesach cleaning routine. I understand it is a great loss to lose your prior devoted chief of cleaners, and to feel overwhelmed with all the pressure of Pesach cleaning on your shoulders. I understand that you were very upset and questioning G-d why this happened to you. It is indeed a good question when realizing that everything G-d does is for our best, and all challenges are test that help us grow. So what lesson is it that Hashem wants to instill in you through this hardship?

Freedom from Being in Control
The holiday of Pesach is about gaining freedom. Freedom doesn’t necessarily mean to be free to do whatever you feel like. Such freedom is in fact slavery to the yetzer hara (negative impulse). True freedom is to let go of attachments. The matzah we eat on Pesach is simple; it needs nothing except flour and water. Freedom on Pesach is to become like the matzah – to free ourselves from relying on anyone or anything other than Hashem. True freedom is to accept that only Hashem is in control. It seems to me that the lesson Hashem wants to teach you is to let go on the attachment to be in control. You cannot control your chief of cleaners; you cannot make anyone do what you want them to do. You need to do what you can and rely on Hashem for the rest. You may have to accept that this year you weren’t able to do as much extra cleaning as in the past. As long as you got rid of the actual chametz that should suffice.

Receiving Divine Assistance When We Rely on Hashem Alone
I heard the following story in the name of the Rebbe of Biala about a Jew who was extra strict in his Pesach preparations. He was so concerned about not getting a single crumb of chametz in his water barrels that he made the gentile water carrier cut his hair and change his clothes before drawing water. When he visited Rebbe Mordechai of Chernobyl zt”l for the last day of Pesach, the Rebbe told him that there was chametz in his water barrel. He returned home and indeed found bread floating in his water barrel. When he asked the Rebbe why this happened to him, he explained: “Other people are not so fanatic in their preparations for Pesach as you are. They know they are imperfect, and turn to Hashem for help in protecting them from inadvertently possessing or eating chametz. Therefore, Hashem protects them. Without Hashem’s help, it is impossible to rid ourselves from every last crumb of chametz. You, on the other hand, relied on your own resources and excessive stringencies. You were so sure of your own abilities to protect yourself that you did not turn to Hashem for help. Hashem would have preferred you to be less exacting and more humble. Therefore, He allowed this to happen to you.” When we rely on nothing but our own endeavors, we deprive ourselves of the assistance that Hashem offers those who rely on Him (Mevaser Tov, Ma’amar HaHoda’ah).

Emerging from Self-imposed Slavery
On Pesach, we change our routine and go with the flow, overcoming our attachments to getting things done in our usual way. We use different sets of dishes and kitchenware, and we do not eat the same kinds of foods as during the rest of the year. On Pesach, we went out of slavery. Every Pesach we need to emerge from our own self-imposed slavery.  Hashem didn’t tell Moshe to merely demand “Let My people go,” but rather “Let My people go, that they may serve Me.” We need to free ourselves of the obsession with any extra work that is not serving Hashem, and therefore no longer serving us either. This gives us freedom to rest on the holiday of Pesach and enjoy what is, rather than craving what isn’t. May you truly emerge liberated this Pesach!

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Why Do We Need All These Animal Sacrifices?

Ask the Rebbetzin - Parashat Tzav
Printable Version

Dear Rebbetzin,
I’ve been a vegetarian for many years and I have a hard time with the notion of animal sacrifices which is so central in the Book of Vayikra. These rites seem to me barbaric and unethical to animals. Why would G-d command that we take the lives of innocent animals just to atone for our own sins? I just don’t understand why so many Torah verses center around describing the horrific animal sacrifices. Since I don’t find any meaning in these Torah sections, I end up just skipping them. I certainly hope that these archaic rites will not be reinstituted when our Temple in Jerusalem will be rebuilt.
Chaya Dinner (name changed)

Dear Chaya,
I totally understand the way you feel, and I’m positive you are not the only one who has a hard time relating to the animal sacrifices. When I was a new returnee to Judaism, I felt exactly like you, and I have to admit that I still do not find the sacrifices the most exciting part of the Torah. Nevertheless, I believe that all the mitzvot have intrinsic value, which transcends any meaning or explanation that we may give. A mitzvah is a mystical powerhouse, regardless of our understanding. There must be deep mystical reasons for the animal sacrifices. Otherwise, why would the Torah go to such lengths to describe them in so many details? The Hebrew word for sacrifice, קָרְבַּן/korban, derives from the root קָרַב/karav – “come close,” specifically to G-d. Thus, all the sacrifices, including the animal sacrifices, were vehicles to bring someone who had become far from Hashem close to Him once again. Still, why is it necessary to use animal sacrifices in order to engender such rectification? Why is repentance and prayer not enough?

Kabbalistic Reasons for the Sacrifices
I found some fascinating teachings of the Arizal on the sacrifices by Rabbi Avraham Greenbaum in his commentary on Vayikra. According to Arizal, it sometimes happens that a person’s soul falls to become incarnated in an animal. When the animal is brought as a sacrifice, it rectifies this soul to become elevated to its root and close to G-d again. Even when the sacrificial animal is not an incarnation, it nevertheless may contain holy sparks that fell at the time of creation and that are rectified through the sacrificial ritual. Arizal further explains that when the impure animal aspect of a person’s soul gains dominion over him, it causes him to sin. To rectify this, he must bring an animal as a sacrifice. The burning of the animal on the altar draws down an exalted fire that burns away the sins and cleanses the person’s animal soul at its very root. Since the impurity of the vegetable and inanimate levels are even greater than that of the animal level, and also cause people to sin, they must also be represented on the altar in the form of wine, flour and salt. In this way, the sacrifices elevate and purify all the fallen sparks and raise the physical vitality of this world to a higher plane.

An Elevation for the Animals
The sacrifices accomplish even more than prayer, which connects us to the spiritual level, because they connect the physical with the spiritual world. They affect not only the person who comes closer to Hashem through his sacrifice, but moreover, elevate all the animals in the world. I remember hearing the Rabbi in my first year of Yeshiva, explain that the sacrifices actually benefited the animals to such an extent that they would stretch their necks in their desire to be sacrificed. The human soul has several layers, including the Divine, the rational and the animal within. The sacrifices in the Temple elevated all of these levels, in addition to the animal that was being sacrificed. Thus, the sacrificial service consisted of elements from the inanimate world (salt), the vegetable world (flour, oil and wine), the animal world (the sacrificial animal or bird), the human world (the sinner, who had to confess his sin over the offering) and the world of the souls (represented by the officiating Kohen. These realms correspond in turn to the world of action (Asiyah) – inanimate, the world of formation (Yetzirah) – vegetative, the world of creation (Beriyah) – animate, and the world of emanation (Atzilut), corresponding to humanity. Finally, the highest world called Adam Kadmon corresponds to the repenting soul. Arizal further explains that the sacrifices rectified the original sin of Adam who caused good and evil to become mixed, thereby blemishing all the worlds and strengthening the forces of evil. Accordingly, G-d commanded man to bring together representatives of the inanimate, vegetative and animate realms. The service of the Kohanim, the music of the Levites, and the repentance of the owner of the sacrifice, cleanses and purifies all the worlds (Arizal, Ta’amey HaMitzvot, Vayikra).

Divergent Views on the Sacrifices by Rambam and Ramban
Rambam notes that the sacrifices served to nullify belief in idol worship. By sacrificing animals worshipped by pagans, we declare: “Don't worship these animals! Use them in the service of Hashem!” For example, the Egyptian's believed in a ram god; hence, the Passover sacrifice is a lamb, which is then eaten at the Passover Seder celebration. During Biblical times, it was the general practice among all nations to worship by means of sacrifice. G-d did not eliminate this practice since “to obey such a commandment would have been contrary to the nature of man, who generally cleaves to that to which he is used.” Therefore, G-d allowed Jews to make sacrifices, but He transferred that which had served as idol-worship to His service. This way He redirected the sacrificial order to wean people away from paganism and towards monotheism (Moreh Nevuchim 3:32, 46). Ramban objects to Rambam’s anthropological-psychological-sociological- historical explanation for the sacrifices. He holds that the animal sacrifices are fundamental and not merely a response to external influences on the Jewish people. Firstly, the Torah tells us that Kayin offered a sacrifice, obviously predating any pagan influence. Secondly, in many places the Torah refers to korbanot as being רֵיחַ נִיחֹחַ לַהָשֵׁם/reiach nichoach laHashem – a pleasant fragrance to G-d. If the sacrifices were merely a concession to man’s weakness, why would G-d be so pleased with them?

Will the Animal Sacrifices be Reinstituted in the Third Temple?
In line with Rambam’s approach, there would be no need to reinstitute the animal sacrifices at a time when it is no longer the way of people to worship by sacrificing, especially when there is an aversion against such worship. The Torah requires that sacrifices must be slaughteredלִרְצֹנְכֶם /lirtzonchem – ‘willingly’ (Vayikra 19:5). As the Talmud explains, one must be able to say, ‘I want to bring this offering’ (Babylonian Talmud, Erchin 21a). When the slaughter of animals is no longer acceptable to society, this condition will not be fulfilled. According to Rav Kook, only the mincha offering consisting of flour and oil will be reinstituted in the third Temple. At that time, all aspects of the universe will be elevated, including the animals. They will advance to a level of awareness of G-d similar to the level of people today (Arizal, Sha’ar Hamitzvot). Therefore, no sacrifice could be offered from such humanlike animals. It is about this messianic era that the Midrash makes the startling prediction, “All sacrifices will be annulled in the future” (Tanchuma Emor 19, Vayikra Rabbah 9:7). The prophet Malachi similarly foretold of a lofty world in which the Temple service will consist only of grain offerings, in place of the animal sacrifices of old:

ספר מלאכי פרק ג (ד) וְעָרְבָה לַיהֹוָה מִנְחַת יְהוּדָה וִירוּשָׁלִָם כִּימֵי עוֹלָם וּכְשָׁנִים קַדְמֹנִיּוֹת:
“Then the grain-offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to God as in the days of old, and as in ancient years” (Malachi 3:4).

The fact that we may feel uncomfortable killing animals, emanates from a hidden anticipation of the future, already ingrained in our souls, like many other spiritual aspirations (Gold from the Land of Israel pp. 173-176. Adapted from Otzarot HaRe’iyah, vol. II, pp. 101-103; Olat Re’iyah vol. I, p. 292).

Animal Sacrifices Provide Eternal Meaning to an Animal’s Existence
Still, as Ramban asserts, the animal sacrifices do have intrinsic value, and it is hard to believe that the Torah verses describing them would not have eternal relevance. The halacha transforms he sacrifices from a primitive religious practice into a sophisticated and advanced form of worship. By virtue of this transformation, the sacrifices are referred to as a sweet odor to Hashem (Meshech Chachmah, Vayikra, Introduction). Personally, I look forward to the rebuilding of the third Temple, when we will find out whether the animal sacrifices will be reinstituted or not. I can see reasons for both possibilities. As we have demonstrated, animal sacrifices are not necessarily cruel to the animals. Rather, they engender spiritual elevation for them. Furthermore, by helping humans live more righteously, share with others, feel thankful and repentant, and fulfill the commandments, an animal’s existence gains eternal meaning.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

What will Give me Strength to Deal with all my Hardships?

Ask the Rebbetzin - Parashat Vayikra

Dear Rebbetzin,
I really feel at a complete loss, and have a hard time keeping up my emunah (faith). My biological clock has been ticking for more than a decade, and I don’t know if I will ever get married and have children. I just feel so devastated and lost. How can I believe that I will get married soon, when I see so many older single women? How can I know that I am not going to remain one of them all my life? I’ve been praying and praying but it doesn’t seem like Hashem is answering me. Can you please help strengthen my emunah?
Rachel Stein (name changed)

Dear Rachel,
Hitbodedut (personal prayer)
in the forest next to Bat Ayin
I totally feel for you. What you are going through is not easy, and I am aware that it doesn’t necessarily help you to know that you are not alone in waiting to find your soulmate. The uncertainty of not knowing what will be and whether you will ever be able to find a husband and have children can be almost unbearable. In truth, we never really know anything in life for sure. Even a woman, who does get married and has children, sometimes, G-d forbid, may lose her spouse and children. The main lesson of life is to accept that Hashem is in control. When we let go and accept G-d’s will totally, Hashem doesn’t need to bring us hardships in order to teach us this lesson. However, how can we accept Hashem’s will and keep our steadfast emunah when we are in a situation that is so unbearable?

Emunah is Trans-rational Acceptance of Hashem’s Will
Emunah doesn’t mean that we believe that everything is going to turn out the way we want. Emunah is to believe and accept that Hashem is in charge. Everything is in His loving hand and according to His will. Emunah is to trust that everything is ultimately for the best even if things do not always turn out according to our wishes. Within this understanding and acceptance, we can find our place of heartfelt prayer to Hashem that things will end up the way we hope and pray – like Chana who poured out her soul in prayer for children. When we accept Hashem’s will, and make His will our will, then Hashem too will make our will His will (Pirkei Avot 2:4). Emunah is bitul (gratuitous trans-rational acceptance), and as harsh as it may sound, you need to accept that you may or may not get married and have children. Emunah is to believe that even if what you desire the very most never materializes G-d forbid; your life can still be meaningful and have a great purpose. I know many single women who are miserable. I also know others who find ways to be happy with their lot in life, performing many mitzvot and contributing their talents to the world. Still other ‘older singles’ have found fulfillment in later marriages to men with children whose children call them “Grandma!”

Hardships are Wakeup Calls to Turn to Hashem
“Hashem desires our hearts.” He desires to hear our prayers from the depths of our hearts. Hashem always answers our prayer but sometimes the answer is “no” and we have to accept that Hashem knows best what we really need to rectify ourselves. Often the answer is “not yet” or “soon” but we just don’t know. Therefore, we need to be patient in our emunah and continue to turn to Hashem with our prayers. This week’s parasha is called וַיִּקְרָא/Vayikra – “He called.” Hashem constantly calls us to connect with Him, and hardships are wakeup calls to turn to Hashem with every fiber of our being.
וַיִּקְרָא אֶל משֶׁה וַיְדַבֵּר הָשֵׁם אֵלָיו מֵאֹהֶל מוֹעֵד לֵאמֹר: (ויקרא פרק א פסוק א)
“Hashem called to Moshe and Hashem spoke with him from the Tent of Meeting saying…” (Vayikra 1:1).

As I write in my newest Parasha Meditation Book, the last word לֵאמֹר/l’emor – “saying” is extra. If Hashem "spoke," obviously He would be “saying.” Whenever “saying” appears as an extra word, it teaches us about the ongoing, continuous prophecy which applies to all future generations (Mechilta, Parashat Beshalach, parasha 1). Just as Hashem called to Moshe, He continuously calls us throughout the times, nurturing an ongoing relationship with us. Hashem is putting you in this unbearable situation in order to make you unload your burden on Him through the depths of your prayers. Whenever you pray, don’t forget to include prayers for other single women who are seeking their soulmate. 

Practice Conversations with Hashem
Practicing Hitbodedut (speaking with Hashem in your own words) is a powerful way of heeding Hashem’s call for an ongoing relationship with Him. I used to find hitbodedut intimidating, as the recommended time is for a full hour a day, which there is no way I could fit into my schedule. My interest awoke, when I heard a talk by Rabbi Miki Yosefi, who mentioned that even five minutes a day of hitbodedut can do wonders. He also explained how Hashem responds to us by answers we receive in our own heart. We learn this from King David’s Tehillim: לְךָ אָמַר לִבִּי בַּקְּשׁוּ פָנָי – “To You my heart said, ‘seek My face’” (Tehillim 27:8). Who is saying, “Seek My face? It is written as if my heart is saying that, but what is the face of our heart that we are asked to seek? When it states, “To You my heart says, seek…” who is talking to whom? According to Rashi, the word “to You” means “My heart speaks for You and as Your emissary telling all of Israel to seek My face.” Thus, Rabbi Nachman explains that when we speak to Hashem, Hashem answers us through the words that come into our own heart. What our heart says is really the words of Hashem (Likutei Moharan, part 1, Torah 138). So, I highly recommend daily Hitbodedut – pouring out your heart to Hashem, expressing yourself in your own words, in the language you understand best. Tell Him what you are going through – your pain, the various pressures you are under, your personal situation, that of others in your home, and also that of the Jewish people as a whole. Plead with Hashem to help come genuinely close to Him. Argue with the Creator in any way (like Avraham and Chana). Chose the most burning question in your life and ask Hashem for an answer. Ask Hashem to guide you and then remain silent to receive His answer for you.

May Hashem bless you with true emunah and may He send you your soulmate speedily!

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

How can I Help Restore Peace when Dementia Pulls the Family Sanctuary Apart?

Ask the Rebbetzin - Parashat Vayakhel/Pekudei

Dear Rebbetzin,
I’ve been put in a difficult situation acting as a middleman between a daughter and her mother who is undergoing hardship and grief due to the husband’s dementia and subsequent placing in a nursing home. The daughter does not understand her mother’s hardship in dealing with the emotional strain of the decline of her husband as well as her being overwhelmed by the additional tasks falling on her shoulders. Although the daughter means well, all her activities to honor her father, such as trying to celebrate his ‘round’  birthday, organizing children to come sing for him, renting musical instruments to do music therapy with him and more is only adding stress to the mother. The mother is doing the best she can; she visits her husband daily and takes care of his essential needs. She is not in a place where she can handle anything extra, such as her daughter’s creative ideas and initiatives. Moreover, these initiatives exposes her husband’s decline, which the mother is working hard to keep private. The daughter feels very attached to her father but lives abroad. She gets very hurt every time her suggestions to make her father happy are shut down. How can we help the daughter better understand her mother and become more supportive of her?
Sima Weinberg (name changed)

Dear Sima,
It is very kind of you to care so much about your friend and her grief and to reach out to be helpful. Dementia is called the disease of the relatives because it affects them more than most other illnesses. Sickness in general puts a strain on the family relations, and it is very nice of you to want to help bring the mother and daughter closer and help them support one another in their grief. I can only imagine how hard it must be for your friend to watch her husband deteriorate and become a shadow of himself, in addition to having to manage all the responsibilities of the household alone, herself no longer a youngster. It is possible that she also may have pent up guilt feelings for placing her husband in a home, and for not being able to do more. Perhaps her daughter’s initiatives exacerbates these feelings, reminding her of her own limitations. It is important that your friend has friends like you, with whom she can express her feelings and get support. 

Dementia – the Relatives’ Disease
Dementia definitely hits the wife hardest, but do not belittle the grief of the daughter, who experiences her beloved father – her protector and stronghold – degenerating, while being unable to help. It seems like the mother and daughter have opposite ways of dealing with their grief. The mother, as you mention, has been trying hard to shield her husband from the rest of the world in order not to expose his debility. Perhaps the daughter feels that having dementia at an advanced age is not necessarily something embarrassing that needs to be swept under the rug. Actually, almost half of the world population has dementia by the age of 90. Yet, it is important to help the daughter understand her mother, and not take it personally when her initiatives to help are rejected. She needs to understand the strain her mother is under, which may cause her to overreact in her opposition to her daughter’s desire to make her father happy. You can be helpful to your friend by helping her to see her daughter in a more objective light and learn to appreciate her initiatives to help even while living abroad. It is not easy to be living in another country while one’s parents are in need, especially not when being repeatedly rejected by one’s mother, while trying to be helpful.

Contributing to the Family Sanctuary According to Desire and Ability
It sounds like the daughter has a lot of energy and desire to help. You mentioned that she is very attached to her father, and it may be possible that she has a better understanding of his needs than others do. It would be good for the mother to take advantage of this and discuss with her daughter ways that she can be helpful. The family is like a sanctuary and for the sanctuary; each person contributes his or her particular gifts according to their ability to give:

ספר שמות פרק לה (כט) כָּל אִישׁ וְאִשָּׁה אֲשֶׁר נָדַב לִבָּם אֹתָם לְהָבִיא לְכָל הַמְּלָאכָה אֲשֶׁר צִוָּה הָשֵׁם לַעֲשׂוֹת בְּיַד משֶׁה הֵבִיאוּ בְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל נְדָבָה לַהָשֵׁם:
“All the men and women whose hearts moved them to bring anything for the work that Hashem commanded through Moshe to be done, they, the children of Israel bought it as a free will offering to Hashem” (Shemot 35:29).

If you can be instrumental in helping the mother and daughter to allow each other to contribute to the family according to their respective abilities and talents while learning to support and appreciate one another, then you have indeed add a building block for the Temple. 

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Why are only Males Commanded to Appear at the Temple During the Three Pilgrim Holidays?

Ask the Rebbetzin - Parashat Ki Tisa

Dearest Rebbetzin,
I have a question for you – I feel very hurt when I read that Hashem wanted only the “males” to come to the Temple during the Shalosh Regalim (Pilgrim Festivals). The word used to describe the commandment to appear at the Temple isזְכוּרְךָ /zechurcha – “your males” from the root zachar. The Torah didn’t even use a more general expression like B’nei Yisrael – “Sons of Israel’ which could possibly include females.
Marina Malkin (Name Changed)

Dear Marina,
I understand that you feel hurt because it seems that when Hashem commanded only the males to appear at the Temple as if He only wants to see the men and doesn’t care about the women. Could it really be that Hashem prefers men, with no interest in a relationship with women? This seems out of character with how Hashem listened to the prayers of our Mothers throughout the Torah. So, how can we understand the commandment for only the males to appear at the Temple for the particular holidays of Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot, without it being denigrating of women?

Men Need Ritual Discipline
Personally, I’m not really bothered by the commandment for males to appear at the Temple mount, even though it is repeated three times in the Torah, in Parashat Mishpatim, Ki Tisa and Re’eh:

ספר שמות פרק כג פסוק יז שָׁלשׁ פְּעָמִים בַּשָּׁנָה יֵרָאֶה כָּל זְכוּרְךָ אֶל פְּנֵי הָאָדֹן הָשֵׁם:
“Three times a year all your males shall appear before the Master, Hashem” (Shemot 23:17).

ספר שמות פרק לד פסוק כג שָׁלשׁ פְּעָמִים בַּשָּׁנָה יֵרָאֶה כָּל זְכוּרְךָ אֶת פְּנֵי הָאָדֹן הָשֵׁם אֱלֹהֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל:
“Three times a year all your males shall appear before the Master, Hashem, the G-d of Israel” (Shemot 34:23).

ספר דברים פרק טז פסוק טז שָׁלוֹשׁ פְּעָמִים בַּשָּׁנָה יֵרָאֶה כָל זְכוּרְךָ אֶת פְּנֵי הָשֵׁם אֱלֹהֶיךָ בַּמָּקוֹם אֲשֶׁר יִבְחָר בְּחַג הַמַּצּוֹת וּבְחַג הַשָּׁבֻעוֹת וּבְחַג הַסֻּכּוֹת וְלֹא יֵרָאֶה אֶת פְּנֵי הָשֵׁם:
“Three times a year all your males shall appear before the face of Hashem, your G-d, in the place that He will choose, on the festival of matzah, the festival of Shavuot and during the holiday of Sukkot. They shall not appear before Hashem empty handed” (Devarim 16:16).

These verses describe the obligation to bring a specific sacrifice: the Olat Re’iyah during the three Pilgrim Festivals. When,  b”H, we will have a Temple, I imagine I’ll be happy to visit it voluntarily, when I’m able, together with my husband, without the pressure of being commanded. Sometimes, having to commute and stay overnight for the holidays somewhere else, may be challenging for a woman, for example, at the beginning or end of her pregnancy and right after birth. Temple and Synagogue service is the man’s domain. He needs this ritual discipline in order to elevate himself from his lower, more animalistic nature. Women are naturally more in tune with their Divine essence. Therefore, they are exempted from all positive, time bound mitzvot, including the commandment to appear with a sacrifice at particular times at the Temple. Her home is a woman’s private Temple, and she can be equally close to Hashem wherever she finds herself.

Men are Providers while Women are Receivers
It is known in Kabbalah and from the human physiology of procreation that men are משפיע/mashpia – providers, whereas women are מקבל/mekabel – receivers. The mitzvah to appear at the Temple during the Pilgrim Festivals is not a mitzvah of receiving, but rather a mitzvah of providing, as it includes the requirement to bring a sacrifice, in order not to come emptyhanded. This is why this mitzvah is associated specifically with the זכר/zachar – the male aspect, as the reason the Torah commanded the males to appear is for the sake of giving נַחַת רוּחַ /nachat ruach – spiritual contentment to Hashem (K’tav Sofer, Devarim 16:16). Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot are, moreover, considered male holidays as opposed to Chanukah and Purim, which are considered female holidays. This is because all the miracles of Chanukah, and Purim occurred within the realm of nature, whereas the miracles of the Exodus were beyond the space and time frame of nature. This explains why the ‘natural’ miracles of Chanukah and Purim took place through women. Since the miracles occurred within nature during these holidays, and the world stands as ‘receiver’ in relation to G-d, they came about through women, who also symbolize the aspect of mekabel (Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev). It is interesting to notice that the male holidays will be abolished in the future, whereas the female holidays are eternal. “All the holidays will be nullified in the future except Purim and Chanukah” (Midrash Mishlei Parasha 9). The other holidays depend on the Jewish people’s drawing down holiness into time. Since the future will be beyond time, it follows that the holiness of the holidays will be nullified, as a candle is nullified in bright daylight. Yet, on Purim, the realm of holiness within all reality was revealed independently of people’s actions. Therefore, it will never be nullified, similar to Shabbat, which is not dependent on people’s deeds (Sefat Emet, on Purim). Purim is a feminine holiday where, rather than effecting and rectifying reality, we receive and reveal the eternal light of Hashem which perpetually permeates all of reality. Therefore, the light elicited by the other festivals will pale in comparison with that elicited by Purim and Chanukah by means of women.

Revealing Hashem’s Presence Within All Existence
The mitzvah of coming to the Temple during the three masculine holidays is described as an obligation to be “seen.” The sacrifice required to be brought at these occasions was called Olat Re’iyah – “Appearance burnt offering.” The mitzvah of appearing is an external action required of the men for their own sake. Since women are naturally more internally disposed, we do not have the obligation to appear externally, Hashem’s knowing eye sees all of us equally, whether we appear before Him or not. In conclusion, there is no reason to feel hurt regarding the mitzvah for the males to appear at the Temple at specific times. It does not in any way reflect a preference for men over women. Men and women have different roles in serving Hashem. Our job, as women, is to tune deeply into our souls and into the hidden level of reality and reveal Hashem’s presence within all of existence.