Friday, July 30, 2010

Is G-d "He" or "She"?

Rebbetzin Chana Bracha on her recent visit to Denmark.
Haftorat Ekev
Yesha'yahu 49:14-51:3

In the Prophesies of Redemption, Hashem is often described through the metaphor of a wife and mother. I discuss the connection between this feminine imagery and redemption, and the difference between the masculine and feminine aspect of Hashem. Please share your ideas about your understanding and connection to the feminine aspect of Hashem.  Should we refer to Hashem as "He" or "She" or both?

Innate Maternal Mercy
This week's haftorah is the second in the series of seven "haftorot of Consolation." The children of Israel express their concern that G‑d has abandoned them in the long-winding exile. G‑d reassures Israel that it is not so, comparing His love and mercy for His people to that of a mother for her children." Shall a woman forget her sucking child, from having mercy on the child of her womb? These too shall forget, but I will not forget you" (Yesha'yahu 49:15). In the comparison of Hashem to a nursing mother, His mercy on the Jewish people is even greater than the mercy of a mother on her suckling children. A mother has the deepest connection with her nursing infant, to whom she is tied, as with an invisible umbilical cord. The cries of her baby pull her heartstrings so strongly, that it can even bring about the flowing of her milk. The moment her baby is born, a young woman instantly turns from being a carefree, self-centered teenager, to a responsible caring mother. The needs of her baby take precedence over all her personal needs. As her womb expands and opens to give birth, her motherly mercy is born as well. This is why the Hebrew word for "womb" – "rechem" shares the same root as "mercy" – "rachamim." Unfortunately, there are exceptional cases, where the mother is out of tune with her innate maternal mercy. "…These too shall forget." – In my practice of spiritual healing, I have come across numerous women with abusive, controlling critical mothers who must have forgotten their natural compassion for their children. It takes much spiritual healing and inner child work to mend the lack of self-esteem and neurosis stemming from lack of maternal mercy. "…But I will not forget you" says Hashem. No matter how much abuse we have experienced, we can still access Hashem's life-giving Shechina within us and emerge from the darkness. Hashem will never forsake us, neither on an individual level nor as a nation. Hashem will eventually redeem and heal us completely, revealing His Shechina within each of his children and restoring His chosen people securely to their Holy Land.

Is G-d "She" or "He"?
Many people have expressed difficulty when I call G-d: "He." Some suggest that I use "He or She." I find this too convoluted, as I always try to express ideas in the most concise way possible. We all know that G-d is beyond any comparison to human form or gender. Although the Torah unequivocally tells us that G-d is beyond form, it uses anthropomorphic metaphors, such as G-d's strong hand, His watchful eyes etc., because the human mind is incapable of grasping purely esoteric concepts, without concrete images. Likewise, the Zohar describes how G-d's unity is expressed in male and female energies, consistently with the way of humanity, created in His image. Male and female genders are a living metaphor for the two ways that G-d makes His presence known. Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller writes beautifully how the Torah uses "He" when describing the external, revealed Divine interventions, comparably to the male external organs, and "She" when describing the internal, hidden spark of Divinity that gives life to every creation, and corresponds to the internal feminine genitals. For example, when G-d communicates by giving us the Torah, and when He performs open miracles, obvious to even the most cynical eye, such as the splitting of the Reed Sea, then G-d is called "He" or "Holy One Blessed Be He." On the other hand, the Feminine aspect of G-d, the Shechina, describes the permeating light of G-d's inner presence, hidden within each of us. Due to the internal nature of the feminine aspect of G-d, "She" cannot be expressed through the external nature of speech. This is why, although G-d is equally masculine and feminine, I address G-d as "He", unless I'm referring specifically to the Shechina.

Hashem our Mother
I believe that the image of Hashem as a merciful mother in our haftorah reflects the inner dimension of Torah and mitzvoth, which is revealed during the messianic era and redemption from exile which the haftorah describes. We learn from Tanya, that during this time, "The involvement in Torah and mitzvot will be through the inner teachings of Torah by fulfilling mitzvot with supreme devotions…the inner meaning to the mitzvot and their hidden reasons" (Tanya, Igeret HaKodesh 26). Most references to G-d, during the redemptive process are therefore expressed in feminine imagery, as the Shechina will then come out of Her hiding and ultimately permeate the whole world with Her radiance.

Shaping the Rock of Sarah
Our haftorah culminates with a call to remember from where we came, and the rock from which we are hewn – Avraham and Sarah – our male and female role-models, which have molded the existence of the Jewish people. "Look to the rock from where you are hewn, and to the hole of the hollow from which you were dug out. Look to Avraham your father, and to Sarah that bore you." (Yesha'yahu 51:1). According to Rashi, Avraham is compared to the rock that protrudes outwards, whereas Sarah, is compared to the inner hollow from where we were carved. While Avraham is the raw material of the rock, Sarah shapes the rock by removing the undesirable parts. She ensured that Yishmael would be separated from Yitzchak, in order to allow the Shechina to be fully revealed. We, women, continue the work of Sarah. By removing negativity, and protecting the men in our lives from harmful influence, we carry on the carving, until the inner core of the rock is revealed. In this way, we fulfill our job as Jewish women, to refine and remove anything that separates the Shechina from being fully revealed in the world.

Hope After Despair
Consolation and hope is the main topic of our haftorah. We must believe that even when all seems lost, there is still hope for renewal. Rav Tzaddok Hakohen of Lublin explains that Avraham and Sarah were the first to reveal the concept of never giving up on anything. The Jewish nation emerged only after Hashem blessed Sarah to conceive a child, when all hope was lost. Therefore, the essence of Judaism is to have emuna and never give up. "Ben David will not come until everyone has given up on redemption (Sandhedrin 97a). Even after giving up, there is still hope (Divrei Sofrim 16). It is time to believe that the light of the Shechina is about to shine forth in the world, and reveal the inner truth to all. Just as the merciful mother never gives up hope for the physical and spiritual survival of her children, so will Hashem never give up on us. "So says Hashem, G-d, See, I will lift my hand to the Gentiles, I raise My banner to the peoples. They will bring your sons in their arms and carry your daughters on their shoulders" (Yesha'yahu 49:22). Let us hold on tight, without being afraid of the ride!

Friday, July 23, 2010

The Inner Lights of Tu b'Av

Haftorah Parashat Va'etchanan
Yeshayahu 40:1-26
Mazal tov to Midreshet B'erot Bat Ayin, born in 1997 on Tub'Av, at the time of celebrating the rise of the feminine! Our Midrasha is in the forefront of Jewish femininity, by building the malchut (kingdom) of the Jewish home and Land. Returning the Shechina – the Feminine Indwelling Presence to the Land, does not just happen through academic study, but rather, by getting deeply in tune with the inner world of the spirit of Israel, while developing our feminine insight and intuition. Only in the Land of Israel is it possible to link the spiritual and the material through outward expression of our creative inner potential. Following a short commentary on the haftorah I share Torah insights about the hidden feminine holiday of Tub'Av and its connection to the vision of Midreshet B'erot Bat Ayin. I wish all of you a joyous celebration and rectification of the Inner Feminine Lights!

Please donate to Creative Torah Learning for Women on the Land in honor of Tub'Av and the birthday of Midreshet B'erot Bat Ayin.

Haftorah of Consolation
This week's haftorah is the first of the seven "Haftarot of Consolation," that we read on the Shabbatot (Shabbats) between Tisha b'Av and Rosh Hashanah. This section from Yesha'yahu begins with G-d's refrain to the prophets: "Comfort, oh comfort My people, says your G-d. Speak comfortingly to Yerushalayim, and cry to her, that her period of exile has been fulfilled and that her sins have been forgiven..." (Yeshaya'hu 40:1). Yesha'yahu's prophecy describes some of the miraculous events that we now see unfolding during the beginning of the Messianic era, such as the return of the exiles to Yerushalayim. We still await the revelation of G‑d's glory and power, the rewards and retribution, and the complete solace for Israel described in the haftorah.

The Connection Between the Haftorah and the Torah Reading
While the consolation in this week's haftorah is appropriate for the Shabbat after Tisha b'Av, it also has a hidden connection to the parashahParashat Va'etchanan which includes the Shema prayer. We have a tradition that the word Shema – שְׁמַע is an acronym for the beginning of the last verse of our haftorah. The first letters of the Hebrew words "Lift up your eyes on high…" (Yesha'yahu 40:26), spell out the word Shema – שְׁמַע. The phrase in Hebrew reads "שְׂאוּ מָרוֹם עֵינֵיכֶם" ("Se'u Marom Eineichem"). The continuation of the verse of the haftorah is "…and see who created all these…" This goes together with the lesson of the Shema prayer – to understand that Hashem is One and only Creator. When we look around the world we live in, some things make sense to us and some don't. We see so much violence and destruction. However, if we look to Heaven and understand that "Hashem our G-d is One," it will become clear that there is one Creator who made everything and causes all events to happen. The haftarah tells us to lift our eyes to see the same principle that we are told to hear in the parasha. We need to focus both our faculties of hearing and seeing on the oneness of Hashem. When we understand that He is the only power from beginning to end, then our questions are silenced.

A Time for Forgiveness and Consolation
Rabbi Shimon Ben Gamliel stated, "Israel had no holidays as joyous as Tu b'Av and Yom Kippur, when the daughters of Jerusalem would go out and dance in the vineyards" (Mishna Ta'anit 4:8). What is so joyous about Tub'Av and Yom Kippur, that they are considered the happiest days of the year? There is nothing more joyous as after we have worked hard to earn our reward. After the 9 days of Av which symbolize all the suffering and toil of exile, the prophet promises us forgiveness and redemption. The holiday of Tub'Av is the hidden holiday of forgiveness and redemption. It begins the rise of the feminine "Arousal from Below," where we work hard to deserve Hashem's forgiveness and reward. On Yom Kippur, we purify ourselves to the highest degree through fasting and prayer. Then, we receive complete forgiveness from our current misbehavior, going all the way back to the sin of the Golden Calf. Likewise, on Tub'Av, we finally celebrate, after the 9 difficult days, when we worked on submitting our heart to Hashem through mourning the destruction of our Holiness, culminating on Tishab'Av with ashes, fasting and lamentation. Our mourning and suffering has cleansed us from everything that takes us away from un-holiness and the Land of Israel. Our suffering atones even for the sins of our forefathers, all the way back to the sin of the spies, who were afraid to conquer the Land of Israel. Like Yom Kippur, we receive the greatest gift of atonement, also on the 15th of Av. Therefore: "No days were as festive to Israel as the 15th of Av and Yom Kippur."

Women Build the Malchut on the Land
Tub'Av is the time when the malchut (kingdom) of the Feminine Indwelling Presence of the Shechina begins to be revealed. This corresponds to the "Arousal from Below" and our Inner Lights, as opposed to the masculine "Arousal from Above" and our Surrounding Lights. The feminine malchut corresponds to Awe of Heaven and begins the period preparing for the High Holidays (in Hebrew Yamim Noraim – Days of Awe) when we crown Hashem King. Likewise the Land of Israel is also known to be the aspect of malchut. Therefore, women have a special connection with the Land.

Dancing in White Dresses Symbolize Purification of the Vessels for Malchut
We prepare our vessels to hold the Inner Lights by crowning Hashem "King of the whole Land" with our entire physical being: Head, heart and liver. (In Hebrew the initials of these three organs Moach,-Brain, Lev- Heart, Caved- Liver spell out the word King -Melech). This entails working on ourselves in order to integrate the Torah into the very fiber of our being. Just hearing an inspiring lecture without the ability to give it over corresponds to Surrounding Lights or "Arousal from Above." Rabbi Refael Luria explains that "the daughters of Jerusalem" represents the malchut (kingdom) since the women are the embodiment of the malchut and the mainstay in the home. The reason why they go out in white dresses is to indicate that now begins the period of preparing the vessels and the garments, which must be white and pure, worthy for the Divine to dwelling. The circle dance in the vineyards creates the vessel for the Inner Lights, to become a vineyard of G-d. The vineyard also alludes to the Inner Lights, as the vine is found inside of the grapes.

Tub'Av: Tikun (Rectification) of the Inner Lights through Creative Expression
According to the religious practice of modesty (tzniut), today it is unacceptable for young women go out to dance in the vineyards, while young men watch, and choose whoever pleases them most. Therefore, our work is to tune into the inner quality of the women's circle dance by rectifying our Inner Lights by connecting with the land in tree-planting and praising Hashem through creative expression. Expressing our creative potential is the feminine mode of serving Hashem which will ultimately herald the geula. It requires getting in touch with the inner spark of the Shechina buried deeply within each of us and giving birth to it through our personal artistic expression in music, art, poetry, dance etc. Through expressing our creativity we integrate our Torah and become a channel for Hashem's Shechina to shine through us.

The Inner Lights of Tub'Av & Midreshet B'erot Bat Ayin
In Midreshet B'erot Bat Ayin, women work together side by side, day after day, sharing insights, dreams and visions. We develop our intuitive femininity, learning from mothers, caretakers, visionaries, peacekeepers, teachers, guides, healers, and mediators. We strive to become wise and loving women knowing that our fundamental task is to maintain harmony and balance within our homes, community and the larger world. Through rectification of our Inner Lights we can engender spiritual transformation, and radiate the inner light and subtle power of "The honor of the King's daughter" (Tehillim 45:14). "In the merit of the righteous women" and with G-d's help, we will merit the building of the Divine Home and the complete redemption.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Sinking into Mud

Haftorah Parshat Devarim
Yesha'yahu 1:1-27
Shabbat Chazon

I feel that Yesha’ahu is speaking directly to us today, that we should feel remorse for the ruin of our people, and strengthen our vision for a future of a united thriving Torah community infused with justice, morality and righteousness in the heart of our Holy Land.

A Vision of the Ruin of our People
On Rosh Chodesh Av – Yesha’yahu had a vision: “The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem, in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, [and] Hezekiah, kings of Judah”  (Yesha’yahu 1:1). On Rosh Chodesh Av in the sadness of our time, I cry: Yesha’yahu had a vision concerning Gush Katif, and Jerusalem in the days of Rice and Baker, Bibi, and the dormant dog. “Your land is desolate; your cities burnt with fire. As for your land, strangers devour it, in your presence, and it is desolate, as turned over to strangers” (Yesha’yahu 1:7). “Your land is desolate” –The thriving greenhouses, farms, schools, community centers, synagogues and homes of the Gush Katif communities were made into dust and sand by no other than Israeli forces. 9,000 Jews from Gush Katif and northern Shomron were expelled by their brothers. Their homes, communities and  trees were uprooted. “Your cities burnt with fire” – Their holy synagogues were burnt down to ashes by life hating Arabs. “As for your land, strangers devour it in your presence” – It was taken over by Hamas to become a stronghold for firing Kassam rockets at the face of Israel. Thousands of rockets began bombarding Israeli towns. Five years after, with my Land in tears, there has still not been “A solution for every settler,” as promised. I cry for my disillusioned sisters and brothers. “From the sole of the foot until the head there is no soundness, but wounds and bruises and putrefying sores; they have not sprinkled, neither have they been bandaged, nor softened with oil” (Yesha’yahu 1:6). Only 9 percent of the expelled families have completed construction on their permanent homes. Some 85 percent continue to live in temporary makeshift homes, while they wait for their sites to be prepared. “The daughter of Tzion is left like a hut in a vineyard… (Yesha’yahu 1:8). How long will the building freeze last? How long will they poison the daughters of Tzion with anger, spite, violence, immodesty and hatred?

How did the Daughter of Tzion Sink into Such Deep Mud?
I cry with Yesha’yahu about how far the daughter of Tzion has fallen. Echoed in the Book of Lamentation, “Eicha?”(How?), Yesha’yahu laments the downfall of the Jewish woman. How can it be, that from the people destined to be “A light to the Nations” (Yesha’yahu 42:6), women have succumbed to the worst kind of immorality harlotry and murder? “How has the faithful city become a harlot! Justice and righteousness would lodge in it, but now murderers” (Yesha’yahu 1:21). Five years after, with my Land in tears, where were the outcries, when in June 2010, Tali Atar z”l, 34, was brutally murdered by another woman? Is there anything more unbelievably tragic than an eight month pregnant single mother being stabbed to death by her downstairs neighbor, because she spilled coffee on her laundry? The woman pulled out a knife, striking in the abdomen, neck and chest so severely, that the doctors in Kaplan Hospital could save neither her life nor the life of her unborn baby. Can you imagine a more horrific vision than that of Tali’s three children, 12, 10 and 6 who heard her screams and witnessed the horror of seeing their mother lying in a pool of blood fighting for her life? Who cried in the city of Ashdod, so close to the tragic expulsion five years ago, when Tali Atar died of her massive stab wounds?  Police admit that they are astounded that a mother took the life of another mother, one who was eight months pregnant, over a spilled cup of coffee. During the ‘70s, ‘80s & up to the mid-’90s violence was a rarity back then in Israel. Murders were extremely rare, and if one occurred, it got the attention of the whole country for a long time. I remember even as a teenager, violence of the current type was unheard of. Murder and attempted murder in Israel rose from 107 and 90 in 1990 to 134 and 312 in 2007. That means that attempted murder rose 300% while the rate of murder rose “only” 30%. Oy! What has become of us?

From the Depth of the Abyss Hashem Calls Us Back
Once we have hit rock bottom, there is no other way than return. Women are awakening from the abyss of drugs, immodesty, and abuse, returning to the faith of our mothers – every descent leads to a greater ascent. Rabbi Yochanan said, “The son of David comes only to a generation who is either entirely pure or entirely guilty” (Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 98a). Within Yesha’yahu’s horrendous vision, the spark of the greatest hope is kindled. “Come now, and let us reason together, says Hashem, though your sins be like scarlet, they shall be white as snow…” (Yesha’yahu 1:18). Even when the behavior of the Jewish people is truly abhorrent, it only represents the external layers of our heart. From within our inner dimension, our true source of existence, Hashem calls us to return and be cleansed and brightened like glistening snowflakes.
Even when the daughter of Tzion has fallen into the most inconceivable immoral behavior, Hashem – the heart and pulse of the Jewish nation – remains connected to His people. Even when our actions are totally corrupt, Hashem calls us back, and reveals (draws out) the purity of our inner dimension.

Shabbat Chazon – Visualizing our Temple Within
This Shabbat is called Shabbat Chazon – “The Shabbat of Vision.” According to Rabbi Levi Yitzvhak of Berditchev, every year, on the Shabbat prior to Tish’ah B’Av, we are shown a vision of our world as a Divine home – a place where all G-d’s creatures will experience His presence. This vision evokes a profound response in us, even if we are not consciously aware of the cause of our sudden inspiration. Even if we do not see ourselves, our souls do see. I’d like to encourage all of us to take advantage of this special Shabbat to consciously visualize our own Temple within. I’d like to call on all our readers to take a few minutes, any time during this upcoming Shabbat, to close your eyes and imagine the splendor of the Feminine In-dwelling Presence returning to the world. What colors do you see? What landscapes, people, flowers, sparks of light and shapes comes to mind? What is your vision for yourself, how do you imagine yourself growing in righteous accomplishment? “Tzion shall be redeemed through justice and her returners through tzedaka (righteousness/charity)” (Yesha’yahu 1:27). Take this moment now to support the vision of the return of the daughters of Tzion to the Torah and the Land. From the huts of the vineyards of Bat Ayin, the voice of Torah is heard from the daughters of Tzion. Together with the daughters of Tzelafchad we will build up the ruins of our Land. We will infuse it with the sprouts of love, devotion, and courage.

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Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Invisible Bond of Family

Haftorat Matot-Masei
Yirmeyahu 2:4 - 2:28

Yesterday I attended the brit of my sister's first grandson. It was such a wonderful experience to celebrate with the extended family, religious as well as secular. If anyone is interested, you can view the photos I took. I have come to treasure my family more and more over the years, and do the best I can to give each member the attention deserved. It so happens that we can learn about the importance of the Jewish family from this week's haftorah.

The Invisible Bond of Family
"Hear the word of Hashem, O House of Ya'acov, and all the families of the House of Israel" (Yirmiyahu 2:4). The Prophet Yirmiyahu makes it clear that the security of the People of Israel lies in the family unit; therefore, he stresses "House," and "Family," for no-one lives in a vacuum. Throughout the forty year journey of the Israelites in the wilderness, they camped according to the flags of their tribes, but traveled according to their respective families, (see Bemidbar 2:34). Even our personal journeys affect and are affected by the members of our families. One of the reasons that helped me make aliyah to Israel was that I already had a lot of family living here. However, when I was a teenager and more interested in friends than family, my mother would tell me: "Friends come and go but the family is always there for you." The longer I live, the more I value the family, my husband and children as well as our extended family. Even though we live far apart and do not always share the same values, the invisible bond of family ties us together.

The Matriarch Influences the Holiness of the Jewish Family
The captain of the family-ship is the matriarch. She steers the entire family to secure shores. We can find an allusion to this from the fact that the haftorah precedes, "House of Ya'acov" to the "Families of the House of Israel." It is well known that in the Torah, "House of Ya'acov" refers to the women (See Rashi, Shemot 19:3). Holy women create holy families. The laws of the mikvah are called the laws of family purity rather than the laws of women's purity, because keeping the laws of nidah meticulously, (separating from the husband during menstruation until going to the kosher mivkah) creates holy families. Children conceived in purity have a higher spiritual potential. However, this does not detract from the many great ba'alei teshuva (returnees to Judaism), who are exceptions. Avraham our father was himself conceived through nidah. Hashem always gives us a chance to rectify our past, yet, by keeping family purity and modesty, the Jewish woman influences her family with holiness. The Zohar elaborates on the blessings bestowed on the family of the woman who is covered even in the corners of her home: Her children are compared to olive branches (Tehillim128:3), that do not lose their leaves neither winter nor summer. Her sons rise up in importance above other sons of the world, just as the olive tree is considered more important than the rest of the trees because of its oil. "Not only that, but her husband will be blessed with everything – from the blessings of above and from the blessings of below, with wealth, with sons, and with children of children…As it states, 'Hashem shall bless you out of Tzion, and you shall see the good of Yerushalayim all the days of your life. You shall see your children's children and peace upon Israel'" (Tehillim 128:5-6), (Zohar, Parashat Naso 80). 

The Connection Between the Haftorah and the Parasha
Although our haftorah is among the "haftorot of affliction," read during the three weeks of mourning for Yerushalayim, between the fasts of 17 Tamuz and 9 Av, we can find an underlying connection to Parashat Matot. The word "Matot" means tribes, yet the Apta Rav explains that the word refers to families. In this week's parasha, Moshe speaks to the heads of the families about the laws governing vows which concern the family. (Ohev Yisrael, Parashat Vaera). Hashem commanded man to "leave father and mother" (Bereishit 2:24), in order to build a family, which eventually turns into a tribe. According to Midrash Yelamdeinu, the word "mateh" is connected to "mitah" – bed, where the family is conceived. " These words both derive from the root "nata", which means to plant. The word "mateh" is also used repeatedly in the Torah to refer to a rod. Perhaps we can say that the strength of the family and tribe is like a rod that fights idolatry and protects the sanctity of the Jewish People.

The Way to Redemption Paved by the Jewish Family
"Moshe heard the people weeping throughout their families, every man in the opening of his tent." (Bemidbar 11:10). "Everything goes according to the family" (Imrei Pinchas, Gate One). When the family is fenced against illicit relationships and when the door of their tent is sealed from improper intruders, Israel is protected against both internal strife and attacks from the enemy. The holiness of the Jewish women protects the "Tents of Ya'acov." Therefore, not even the most cunning enemy, with all the dark powers at his disposition have any power over them. When Bilam saw the holiness of the Jewish dwelling, guarding the privacy of each family, his curse reverted to a blessing. The word "mishpacha" משפחה (family), shares the same numerical value (433) with the word hakochot הכחת  (the powers). The holiness of the family has greater powers than a whole army, protecting us from any possible evil. Interestingly, the word הכחת can also mean "you have proven." The servant of Avraham used this word when praying to Hashem to send him the right wife for building the continuation of his Master's family. "…She shall say, drink and I will give your camels drink also, let her be she that you have proven [suitable] for your servant Yitzchak" (Bereishit 24:14). It is not an easy task for the Jewish woman today to keep the family together. We need to do everything in our power to prevent the dangerously increasing rate of broken homes in the Jewish world, and use the "wisdom of women" to build our home. The letters of the word משפחה can be broken up into משח פה – "Mashach po" –"The anointed one is here." Through building holy families, we pave the way for Redemption.

The Tightrope of Balancing Family and Work
"The Shechina (Divine Feminine Indwelling Presence) dwells only on a family of distinguished Jewish lineage" (Babylonian Talmud, Yevamot 42a). A healthy Jewish home serves as a mini Temple, a place of serenity, respect, love, and holiness – it is a home for G-d. It takes the presence of the mistress of the home to keep the light of the Shechina present within the family. There are many intricate Torah laws regarding relationships among family members. The basic foundation requires sufficient time to devote to raising the family. Today it is not a simple task for the working mom to be home whenever needed. A woman in my family was fired from her job as an assistant lawyer, because she requested to adapt her work hours to the schedule of the day care center. What is most disconcerting, is, that the lawyer who fired her, happened to be a chareidi Jewish mother of a flock of children herself. In the cruel corporate world, even the mitzvah-observant are being forced into replacing devotion to our families with loyalty to the inanimate entity of the Big Corporation. Sarah Azulay on Jewish Family Life and Corporate Business, describes another, extremely articulate, corporate female attorney, who had been looking for a new position for more than half a year. In her job interview, she requested some flexibility, since, her children were young – "I could work until 6:00 or so in the evening, go home to my children, and after they are in bed, continue my work as necessary." When, women are being cornered into proving unyielding dedication to climb up Big Corporation's never-ending ladder, it causes a spiritual descent for the Jewish family. The descent of Western culture into obsessive thirst for materialism is a sledgehammer against a three thousand year old cement foundation, centered on family and spiritual development. The unfortunate result is reflected in the growing rate of divorces, critical health problems, violence in schools, crime, and other evidence of a society rotten to its core. Which material benefits can outweigh any of these disconcerting "side effects"?  There is a place in society for the Jewish woman who insists on the "Golden Mean" advocated by the Rambam, and replaces excessive workaholic obsession with proper balance between time for work and time for raising the family. I believe the most vital moments, when our presence at home is absolutely essential are the times of waking up, serving breakfast, sending the children to daycare/school and the intimate sweetness of tucking the family into bed. In our day, it is not easy to keep our priorities in place, which demand strengthening our bonds with our spouse and guiding our children. However, walking the delicately balanced tightrope between family and work, is one of the secret pathways to building holy families, and redeeming Israel.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Comfort After Affliction

Haftorat Parashat Pinchas
Yirmeyahu 1:1-2:3

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This week's Haftorah mentions the beautiful verse that compares Israel's relationship with Hashem to that of a bride and a groom. This metaphor clearly alludes to the exclusive, monogamous marriage as the highest ideal in the Torah. Expanding on this topic, I have included exerts with my response to some of the 17 comments I received in reply to my article on Pilegesh, (Parashat Chukat). I look forward to further discussion.

Comfort After Affliction

This week's haftorah is the first of a series of the three "haftorot of affliction," read during the Three Weeks of mourning for Yerushalayim, between the fasts of 17 Tamuz and 9 Av. Rabbi Avraham ben David of Luneil writes, "From  Parashat Bereshit through the 17th of Tamuz, the haftarah is chosen to correspond to the parashah topic by topic; but from there on, the choice of haftarah is determined entirely by the time of year and the corresponding historical events" (Sefer HaManhig, Hilchot Ta'anit, Din  16). When as this year, the 17th of Tamuz falls before Parshat Pinchas, its haftarah begins the sequence of twelve haftarot: Three of Affliction, Seven of Consolation, and Two of Repentance. The three of "punishment" are followed by ten of "comfort" since after suffering it takes a long time to be comforted.

In Spite of Exile – Hashem Never Casts Us Away

The first vision in the book of Yirmeyahu, the vision of the almond tree branch teaches us that just as an almond tree is very quick to blossom, so too, G‑d quickly carries out His plan to punish the Jews for their sins. The second vision of a boiling pot, whose foam was directed northward, was an allusion to the afflictions the Jewish people would suffer, at the hands of Babylon from the north of Israel. The kingdoms of the north would lay siege on Yerushalayim and Judea, because of Israel's idol-worship and abandonment of G‑d. The haftorah ends with a reassuring prophecy. In spite of the punishments, G-d will never ever cast the Jewish people completely away.

As A Bride Following Her Groom to the Wilderness

No matter how much we may stray from His ways, Hashem will always remember our original love and dedication. "…I remember the loving-kindness of your youth, your love as a bride, when you followed Me in the desert, in a land not sown… Israel is holy to Hashem, the first-fruits of His increase; all that devour him shall be held guilty, evil shall come upon them, says Hashem (Yirmeyahu 2:2-3). Rashi explains that the word kelulotayich refers to entering into the chupah (marriage canopy) with Hashem, through the great emunah that Israel had during the Exodus. A bride is called a kalah from the same word, which also means completion or perfection such as in (Eicha 2:15) "perfection of beauty." Likewise, a bride during her wedding is glowing with perfection of beauty (Metzudat Tzion ibid.). According to Metzudat David, Hashem remembers his love for Israel when she was a bride, at the time of the chupah at Mount Sinai, when we received the Torah. That pivotal moment is compared to the wedding of G-d to His people (Radak Ibid). Malbim illustrates the verse as a metaphor in which Hashem is compared to a stranger who came from afar. A wealthy man's daughter brought him into her father's house, and was kind to him. Her soul cleaved to his and she married him. Finally, she left her father's house to go with him to the wilderness, because of her great belief and trust in him. Each of the parts of this metaphor alludes to Israel's merits. 1. "The loving kindness of your youth" – refers to our Avot (forefathers), who taught the whole world about G-d, when He was still unknown among the nations, who worshipped stones and sticks. 2. "Your love as a bride" – The marriage, corresponds to the Exodus and Matan Torah (Receiving the Torah), when Israel entered a covenant with Hashem. 3. The final stage, "When you followed Me in the desert" refers to Israel's strong emunah to follow Hashem into the wilderness with great desire to cleave to Hashem. 

Love After Marriage

Malbim demonstrates how the love between the bride and groom gradually increases; reaching a higher level only after the beginning state of marriage, when an even more trusting relationship develops. My personal experience, of having been married for almost thirty years, is that as we mature emotionally and spiritually, we increase our capacity for true love and unity. As a young bride, my own self-expression was the center of importance for me. Yet, as the years pass, I desire much more to unite with my husband in the highest way. Unfortunately, today's world is full of distractions, and we, women, have so many "important" things to accomplish, that our relationship with our husband sometimes is pushed aside. Perhaps this is also a reflection of our relationship with Hashem, which easily goes down the wayside, if we do not exert a conscious effort. The first step to fulfillment in marriage is to place the relationship as the highest priority in our life. Realizing that the relationship between husband and wife is a reflection of the relationship between Hashem and His people, makes it easier to appreciate the fact that there is nothing more important than working on our marriage. The second step is to get used to praying for the success of our husbands daily, in as much detail as we can, including shalom bayit (peace in the home). I have seen incredible changes happen, as a result of a wife's prayer for her husband. We all know the power of prayer. However, the prayer for shalom bayit is especially powerful, because it is like praying for what Hashem prays for already. The final step is to seek spiritual guidance together. Developing a relationship with a Rabbi, helps direct married couples to develop an evermore trusting relationship.

Monogamy – Reflecting Hashem's Relationship with His People

The comparison between the relationship of Israel and G-d with that of a bride and a groom is a reoccurring theme in the Torah. This teaches us to value the exclusive monogamous relationship between husband and wife. Just as the Jews had one G-d (Ha-shem echad), G-d chose only one people (am echad). In the Garden of Eden, after creating the first woman, (note, Hashem created just one woman from and for man) Hashem describes the nature of the marital institution as the deepest union between a man with his pre-destined wife: "That is why a man leaves his father and mother, and cleaves to his wife: and they become one flesh (basar echad)" (Bereishit 2:24). The matrimony between Adam and Chava fashioned by no other than G-d, in the Garden of Eden, is a model for the ideal marriage. Noach, too, who, preserved human life after the flood, had only one wife. The "woman of valor" glorified in the Book of Mishlei is not "women of valor," and rare was the rabbi, of the thousands of sages of the Talmud, who in polygamous times, had more than one wife. It is true that the bible includes several cases of polygamy. However, most of these cases were not only with the first wife's consent, but even through her initiative. The rabbinic system of law, the halacha, allows polygamy for Sephardim, however, "In a place where it is not the custom to marry more than one wife, a man is not permitted to marry an additional wife besides his wife, without her permission…" (Shulchan Aruch, Eben Ha'ezer Hilchot Ketubot 76:8). From all this there can be no doubt that Judaism strongly upholds an exclusive, monogamous marriage as the highest ideal.

Frustrations with Marriage and the Diminished Light of the Moon

Unfortunately, innumerable women are single, unhappily married, or divorced. As we see from a few of the comments I received in reply to my writing on pilegesh, many women are rightfully frustrated with the institution of marriage. Gila Manolson, author of "The Magic Touch," commented on my article: "Unfortunately, part of the reason why women are willing to be a pilegesh, is probably the statistical lack of eligible, quality Jewish men who want to get married." Getting a get (Jewish Divorce Certificate) can sometimes be a very difficult dragged out procedure, and even after receiving it, there is no guarantee that the ex-husband will honor the ketubah. One anonymous woman commented on my article: "The ketubah is worth nothing in our day and age. A man can refuse to pay it at the Beit Din or he can refuse to pay it afterwards. No community will put an iota of social pressure on a man who defaults on his ketubah payments or child support and allows his ex-wife and children to starve." Believe me, I do not need to ask "a flesh and blood divorced woman how she feels about a ketubah." I am personally, very keenly aware, to the depths of my prayers, of the difficulties many women encounter both in marriage and with the process of Jewish divorce. However, as frustrating as these situations may be, they still do not undermine the holiness of the Jewish marriage. The fact that Israel made a Golden Calf does not counteract the holiness of Matan Torah and our eternal covenant with Hashem. Hashem did recognize that there is something intrinsically unfair in the very fabric of creation, through the diminished light of the moon, which alludes to the woman. This is why Hashem asked for atonement for making the moon small (Chulin 60b). The suffering of agunot, abused and divorced women, whose ex-husbands dishonor the ketubah are manifestations of the diminished light of the moon, for which Hashem requested atonement. However, we need to strengthen our emunah that the end of days is near when "The light of the moon will indeed become like the light of the sun" (Yesha'yahu 30:26).

Strengthen Emunah and Do Not Tolerate Polygamy and Exile!

The difficulties experienced during our pre-redemptive era, are all part of the contractions and birth-pangs of Mashiach. Just like a woman prepares herself for child-birth, so do we need to come prepared into the marriage, and do everything in our power, through self-development and discernment to avoid entering an abusive relationship. Nothing like steadfast emunah, prayer, and guidance by our true Rabbis and Rebbetzins can help support us through the suffering with an un-holy man in the various stages of marriage and divorce. I hope to strengthen the emunah of the woman who commented on my pilegesh article: "I don't want to marry the kind of human garbage I got divorced from. I want a stable, happy, un-abusive man. Those men are usually already married. I can tolerate polygamy. I can't tolerate taking the risk of marrying another abusive man who won't pay another ketubah." I do empathize with the distress and frustration in marriage that you express, and I understand that after suffering it takes a long time to be comforted. Therefore, it may take time to build up enough trust to take the steps to seek a healthy remarriage. However, like myself, I am sure you know of women who successfully managed to get out of an abusive marriage, and who now are happily remarried to and un-abusive man. "The main thing is not to give up" and settle for less. In spite of all the suffering during the darkness of exile, we need to work on strengthening our emunah every day, to believe that in spite of the punishments, G-d will never ever cast the Jewish people completely away. Hashem will indeed redeem us soon, and renew His marriage to Israel, His one and only people.