Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Haftorat Bereishit: The Purpose of Creation - Forging An Eternal Relationship with Hashem

In Midreshet B'erot Bat Ayin's Succah
Haftorat Bereishit, Yesha’yahu
Chapter 42:5-43:10

It has been quite a challenge writing this commentary during Chol Hamoed (The intermediate days) of Sukkot with all the family activities and guests. I am recycling last year’s piece about Simchat Torah, and adding this short commentary on the haftorah of Bereishit from where I extrapolated the important role of women to protect the Jewish people from anything negative. Rav Tzadok of Lublin teaches that while it is the role of the men to establish the values of the Jewish people, it is the holy women who protect Israel from the negative influence, which constantly threaten to destroy us. Especially in our time we have many internal enemies and temptations, which attempt to destroy the holiness of Israel. One of these is drug addictions, including marihuana, which several frum men regularly use. As I wrote in the end of this commentary, women have the power and strength to clean out and remove these negative influences from our midst, so that we can “Sing to Hashem a new song” (Yesha’yahu 42:10) and herald the Final Redemption!
The Connection between the Haftorah and the Torah Reading
I found it interesting that as we begin the Torah anew, between the lines of both the Torah reading and its Haftorah, the right of the people of Israel to the Land of Israel is highlighted. The haftorah of Parashat Bereishit opens by declaring Hashem the Creator of heaven and earth. This echoes the recount of Hashem’s creating the world in six days, described in our Torah portion. The commentaries express surprise that the Torah begins by recounting G-d’s creation of the world. They would have rather expected it to begin with the first mitzvah, since the Torah is a way of life, rather than a history book. Rashi explains that Hashem created the world for the sake of Israel. Therefore, in order to validate the children of Israel’s undisputable right to the Land of Israel, He began the Torah by clarifying how Hashem created the world, and therefore has the right to allot His land, to whomever He deems worthy of it (Rashi, Bereishit 1:1). The fact that Hashem is the creator of the world including the Land of Israel, and that He recorded repeatedly in the Torah, how He granted the Land of Israel as an inheritance to the children of Israel, should leave no opening for anyone to ever doubt the Jewish people’s univocal right to the Land of Israel.

The Purpose of Creation – Forging An Eternal Relationship with Hashem
This concept connects the Torah portion with its haftorah, which outlines the privileges and responsibilities of the Chosen nation. The prophet Yesha’yahu opens our haftorah with the following declaration, “So said G-d, Hashem, the Creator of the heavens and their expanse, He Who spread out the earth and what springs forth from it, He Who gives a soul to the people upon it and a spirit to those who walk there” (Yesha’yahu 42:5). Our Sages interpret this verse to refer specifically to those who live in Eretz Yisrael. They deduce that even a gentile maidservant who resides in the Land of Israel will merit everlasting life. In addition, even one who only passes through the Holy Land will merit an elevated spirit in Olam Habah (the World to Come) (Babylonian Talmud, Ketubot 111a).

The Land of Israel – Land of Eternal Relationship
Since the purpose of the entire Creation is that people recognize Hashem as the King, and establish an ongoing relationship with Him, Dovid Siegel explains, that specifically in the Land of Israel, do we have the privilege to experience a relationship with Hashem so intense that it becomes everlasting. Even visiting Eretz Yisrael produces intense feelings of closeness to Hashem that translate into eternity. Therefore, whoever merits to enter Eretz Yisrael fulfills Hashem's purpose in creation.

Hashem Burst Forth like a Woman in Labor
There is one feminine metaphor in our haftorah. Hashem compares Himself to a Woman in Labor. However, surprisingly, rather than describing the forthcoming birth, a masculine imagery of destruction is used, “I was silent from time immemorial; I am still, I restrain Myself. Now I will cry like a woman in travail; I will be gasp and pant together” (Yesha’yahu 42:14). Metzudat David explains that this verse describes how Hashem held His anger back and kept silent and for so long, about the injustice with which the nations have treated Israel. Yet, from now on, He will roar with the voice of a woman in labor, to destroy all the enemies of Israel. According to Radak, Hashem says, “I have held myself back for too long, but now I can no longer bear the suffering of my people. I will destroy all my enemies with my breath.” The continuation of this verse describes several natural catastrophes that Hashem will cause on all those “that trust in carved idols…” (Ibid. 15-17).

Destruction as Part of the Birthing Experience
All this destruction seems to be the very opposite of a nurturing mother giving birth to new life. However, as I’m getting ready to plant the winter garden, during the week following Sukot, I recognize that the first step of nurturing new seedlings is to remove all the weeds. At this time of renewal, when we begin the Torah anew, we read about how the destruction of evil indeed is compared to the birth of good. Following the imagery of devastation, G d arouses the Jewish people to return to being a light unto the nations, by opening their deaf ears and blind eyes, “and bring those who sit in darkness out of prison" (Ibid 22).

Out of the Prison of Marihuana
Hashem compares Himself to a birthing woman, when He causes destruction for the sake of redeeming His people. Likewise, the nurturing feminine role includes gevurah – severity and strength, for the sake of protecting her beloved ones. In order to fully nurture her son, Sarah the first Jewess used her feminine strength to separate off the negative from within her midst. When we women use our feminine power to protect our households from negative influence, with the perseverance and outcry of a woman in labor, then with Hashem’s help, we will give birth to the renewed reality of our personal and communal redemption. For example, I know a frum woman whose husband had been smoking marihuana for many years. As the times passed, the effect of the drug became even more accentuated. The woman kept crying out to Hashem with the intensity of a woman in labor, to please uproot and remove this negativity from her beloved husband. In addition to her intense prayer, she also used the wisdom of women to take actions, and seek help to make her husband understand the negative effect of his actions. Baruch Hashem after many years of struggle, her husband is now in recovery. The process may be lengthy and challenging, yet the wife has steadfast emunah that Hashem will “bring out the prisoners from the prison, and them that sit in darkness out of prison” (Ibid.7).

Simchat Torah

Simchat Torah
The Rectification for the Golden Calf
Why are we so happy for the Torah specifically at Simchat Torah? There must be a deeper reason behind the profound joy expressed through the singing and dancing with the Torah than the mere completion of the cycle of weekly Torah readings?

Rav Refael Luria explains that Tishrei is the month of teshuvah when we return to our source. Our true source is the Torah preceding even the creation of the world (Pesachim 54a).
During Tishrei we do teshuvah for the sin of the Golden Calf which shattered the first tablets of the Torah. The Torah was supposed to be given in four stages as follows:

1) Receiving the Ten Commandments orally on Shavuot.
2) Receiving the Ten Commandments engraved on the Tablets on the seventeen of Tamuz
3) Receiving the entire Written Torah on the ninth of Av
4) Receiving the entire Oral Torah on Rosh Chodesh Elul

The sin of the Golden Calf caused these four stages to be transferred to the month of Tishrei. Each of the holidays of Tishrei rectifies another aspect of Matan Torah:

1) Rosh Hashana rectifies the sixth of Sivan- the giving of the Ten Commandments; the blowing of the shofar connects these two events.
2) Yom Kippur when we received the second tablets rectifies the seventeenth of Tamuz when the first tablets were shattered.
3) Sukkot rectifies the ninth of Av when the Temple was destroyed. The Sukkah is a miniature Temple rectifying the fallen “Sukkah of David.”
4) Simchat Torah rectifies the holiday of Elul. On Shemini Atzeret/Simchat Torah we celebrate the exclusive relationship between Israel and Hashem which corresponds to the acronym of Elul- “I am to my beloved and my beloved is to me” אני לדודי ודודי לי

Simchat Torah completes Shavuot as love of G-d completes fear of G-d.

Both are called Atzeret- meaning the conclusion of the previous holiday. Shavuot concludes Pesach, while Simchat Torah concludes Sukkot. On Pesach Hashem redeemed us from physical slavery, whereas on Sukkot we attained spiritual freedom by means of our repentance on Yom Kippur. The freedom of the body associated with Pesach culminates in receiving the Torah on Shavuot with trembling and fear of G-d through thunder and lightening. Yet, the freedom of the soul attained on Sukkot culminates in joyous dance on Simchat Torah when we receive Torah through love.

On Shavuot we received the gift of Torah from Above, without having to work for it. Because we had not integrated the Torah, we did not understand how wrong it was to produce the Golden Calf. After receiving the Torah through our own efforts, the sin of the Golden Calf could never have occurred. Therefore, Simchat Torah, when we have worked to deserve the Torah through our teshuvah during the month of Tishrei, is a tikun (rectification) for the sin of the Golden Calf. Each step of our joyous dancing surrounding the Torah rectifies another aspect of the Israelite’s dancing around the Golden Calf. All the holidays of Tishrei culminate with Simchat Torah because our relationship with the Torah is the purpose of the entire month.

Every Simchat Torah forgiveness rains down on Israel as a result of the rectification for Moshe’s breaking of the Tablets when seeing the Golden Calf. Receiving rain in the Land of Israel is a result of our complete forgiveness as Rabbi Tanchum Bar Chanilay said, “The rain only falls when Israel’s sins are forgiven” (Ta’anit 7b). Now we understand why we begin to pray for rain in the Land of Israel on Simchat Torah. Hashem wanted the rain to be dependant on our efforts – after having worked so hard on ourselves to return to our true essence – we now deserve the gift of rain and sustenance. On Simchat Torah in addition to celebrating the completion of the cycle of weekly Torah readings, we celebrate the rectification for the Golden Calf and G-d’s forgiveness of Israel. No wonder this holiday is the most joyous of the year.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Women & Simchat Beit Hashoevah

Students' Ushpizin Decorations in the Succah
of Midreshet B'erot Bat Ayin
Dear Friends,
I hope your Yom Kippur was as special, prayerful and divine as ours.
Now we are in full swing with the exciting Sukkot preparations. I look forward to the seven days of Sukkot holding the lights of our holy Uspizin (our Patriarchal Sukkot guests). Each day we have the opportunity to tune into and connect with respectively Avraham’s light of Chesed (loving/ kindness), Yitzchak’s light of Gevurah (restraint), Ya’acov’s light of Tiferet (balanced beauty), Moshe’s light of Netzach (endurance), Aharon’s light of Hod (majesty), Yosef’s light of Yesod (foundation), and David’s light of Malchut (royalty). It is good to be mindful of these special energies, available for us to tap into each day of Sukkot.

I have learned from my spiritual healing teacher Chana Luke that at this time, as we have just emerged from Yom Kippur, we are so renewed and holy that our brachot are quite powerful. Let us take the opportunity to bless each other at this time. I bless you with Simcha (happiness), Wisdom, Energy, Inspiration and Shalom!

Chag Sameach!
May You Dwell in the Sukkah of Hashem!
Women and Simchat Beit Hashoevah:
The secret of the Otherworldly Happiness during the Water Sacrifices of Sukkoth

The Custom Pearl Necklace
Let me begin with a parable: Sarah who is almost five has her eye on a $1.99 custom made pearl-necklace. She counts her pennies and saves up; when she finally is able afford buying this necklace, she is so excited. She wears her new necklace day and night and it makes her feel big and special. Every night after the bed-time story her father asks her “do you love me?” “Of course I do,” “Then give me your pearls.” “Oh, Daddy, not my pearls! You can have princess, the white horse from my collection, the one with the pink tail. Remember, Daddy? The one you gave me. She’s my very favorite.” “That’s okay, Honey, Daddy loves you. Good night.” As always, he brushes her cheek with a gentle kiss.

Exchanging the Cheap for Genuine Treasures
About a week later when her Daddy comes in, Sarah is sitting on her bed with her chin trembling and one silent tear rolling down her cheek. “What’s the matter Sarah?” Sarah doesn’t say anything but lifts her little hand up to her father. When she opens it, there is her precious pearl necklace. With a little quiver, she finally says, “Here, Daddy, this is for you.” With tears gathering in his own eyes, Sarah’s father reaches out with one hand to take the dime store necklace, and with the other hand he reaches into his pocket and pulls out a blue velvet case with a strand of genuine pearls and gives them to Sarah. He had them the whole time ready for her. He was only waiting for her to give up the dime-store stuff so he could give her the genuine treasure. So it is, with our Heavenly Father. He is waiting for us to give up the cheap things in our lives so that He can give us beautiful treasures.

Simchat beit Hashoevah – the Divine Treasure
Simchat beit Hashoevah is such a Divine treasure as it states: “He who has not seen the rejoicing at the place of the water drawing has never seen rejoicing in his life. Following the first day of the holiday they would go down to the women’s courtyard and rectify a great rectification...” (Babylonian Talmud, Sukkah 51a).
Why was Simchat Beit Hashoevah the greatest joy ever? What is this great happiness connected specifically with water? Why did the water sacrifices take place in the women’s courtyard and what is the great rectification done through Simchat Beit Hashoevah?

Water Brings us to the Core
Water is the pure eternal substance, preceding even creation. Its purity is beyond time. When the earth was destroyed during the flood, the water remained. Water is compared to teshuvah, (Bereishit Rabah 2:4), as it states: “Pour out your heart like water” (Eichah 2:19). After Yom Kippur when we returned in complete teshuvah to G-d, and have liberated ourselves from our evil inclination, we pour water on the altar with complete exhilaration. This ritual brings us to the core of life, since 75 % of our being consists of water. As everything rises with the water, we now cleave to our root – the Life of the Universe, realizing that everything is from G-d – we have nothing of our own.

Unconditional Love
Water is a symbol of unconditional love. It is totally pure and simple in itself. Water embodies the great love Hashem showers upon us, every moment of the day. Although wine can become impure by contact with gentiles, water remains eternally pure for all mankind. It requires no effort in planting, reaping, processing, or purifying. Hashem accepts the water sacrifice, the same way He accepts the wine sacrifice, which does require all the processes of preparation. Since G-d’s love for us is unconditional, both wine and water are equal in His eyes.

Water and Relationship with Hashem
The connection between G-d and humanity is highlighted through the water with which G-d blesses the earth in response to our actions. G-d willed it that humanity complete and perfect creation by causing the water to flow. “Every plant of the field was not yet in the earth, and every herb of the field had not yet grown: for the Eternal G-d had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was no man to till the ground” (Bereishit 2:5). Rashi explains that the reason G-d had not yet brought down the rain, is because [hu]man was not yet created to awaken the rain with his prayer.

Water Responds to Music and Prayer
“On the festival [of Sukkoth] there is judgment over water...Why did the Torah say to pour water on the festival [of Sukkoth]? The Holy One said, pour before me water on the holiday [of Sukkoth] in order that the rain of the year will be blessed” (Babylonian Talmud, Rosh Hashana 16a). Why do the water sacrifices on Sukkoth cause the rain of the entire year to be blessed? The Japanese Dr. Masaru Emoto found that water responds to music, words and prayer. Water crystals are formed in correlation with the energy and consciousness transmitted to the water.
Perhaps this explains how the utter exhilaration during the water libations of Simchat Beith Hashoevah would effect the flow of water for the entire year.

Separating between the Male (Upper) and Female (Lower) Water
When Hashem originally separated the lower waters from the upper waters, the lower waters were crying because they had to be restrained and held back to the murmuring depths. Hashem, thereupon, promised them that through the sacrifices they would again become united with the upper waters (Bereishit Rabah 5:4). The separation between the upper and lower waters was the separation between male and female. This separation was only temporary, for at the water libation male and female is reunited as it states: “There is no drop that descends from above without the land rising towards it with double drops. What is the reason? ‘Deep calls to deep at the noise of your funnels etc.’ (Tehillim 42:8). Rabbi Levi said, the upper waters are male and the lower waters are female and these say to these, receive us, you are the creations of G-d and we are his messengers. They immediately receive them, as it states (Yesha’yahu 45:8), ‘Shower, O heavens, from above, and let the skies pour down righteousness; let the earth open,’ – like a female who opens for the male. ‘And let them bring forth salvation’ – they are fruitful and multiply ‘and let righteousness spring up also’ – this is the falling of rain. ‘I am Hashem I created it’ – for the sake of rectifying and inhabiting the world. (Bereishit Rabah 13:13)

Unifying Man and Women through Water
There is no greater happiness than the reunion of male and female after a long period of separation and restraint. This is the ultimate return to Hashem, the root of creation. It is interesting that it is specifically through the purifying waters of the mikveh, that husband and wife become reunited after the period of separation. Furthermore, it was at the well of living waters that many of the soul-mates of the Bible met.

Beyond the Boundaries of Creation
The union of male and female through the water- sacrifices extends to unify all opposites, such as water and fire. These two opposite substances are united in natural salt water. This union of divisions takes place at the Festival of Sukkoth, whose essence is the unification of all Israel in spite of their differences and contradictory elements. Shaking of the Lulav on Sukkoth embodies the unification of the different kinds of Jews represented in the four different parts of the Lulav. At the water-sacrifices there is a union of opposites: The waters from above meet the water from below, in a kiss so pleasant that no greater joy exists. This union dissolves the boundaries of separations, which occurred at Creation.

Unifying All Opposites through the Water Sacrifices
When G-d created the world, He had to constrain His own presence, so to speak, for the sake of the creation of the world. This constraint is called the tzimtzum. The creation process entails numerous separations like the separation of the light from darkness, and the separation of water from dry land. Specifically through water, which mysteriously existed at a primal stage of creation, it is possible to penetrate the tzimtzum and connect with the essence of G-d – the root of all existence. When we unify the opposite elements in creation, through the water sacrifices, we are able to reach beyond the tzimtzum – all the separations of Creation, and reach the original realm of Hashem from before Creation, wherein all contradictions are united. It is the reunification of opposites which enables us to rise beyond the tzimtzum. Opposites are only in the realm of our existence, but in the realm of G-d everything is unified.

The Ultimate Rise of Women with the Restrained Water
The reality that the female waters were held back and restrained fits in with women’s position in Jewish life. We women have to hold back our potential to a certain degree for the sake of the family. However, this restraint is not forever endless. Just as the lower waters were promised they would rise with the sacrifices, there will come a day when the diminished moon will grow to become the size of the sun (Yesha’yahu 30:26). At the time of redemption, when we will draw water out of the wells of salvation (Yesha’yahu 12:3), then women, who are compared to the moon, will rise to their full potential. Therefore, it is not by chance that the Court of the Women was chosen as the place for celebrating Simchat Beith Hashoevah. There the female (lower) waters were allowed to be drawn out and fully express themselves.

Woman’s Sukkah Dance is like Pouring Waters on the Altar of Redemption
When we women celebrate Simchat Beit Hashoevah, through Torah music and dance for women only, we express the beginning of this redemption process, as we emerge from our restraint for the sake of the mitzvah of Simchat Beit Hashoevah. Although the Temple is yet to be rebuilt and the water sacrifices to be reinstated, our joyous music and dancing is more than just a memorial to what once was and a practice for what will be. Our joyous celebrations are part of the redemption process of the lower waters beginning to rise, and therefore every step of our dance is a step on the way to pouring the waters of jubilation on the altar in the Temple, and celebrating our deepest connection with Hashem.

The Greatest Gift of Sharing Love, Unifies the Upper and Lower Waters
Simchat Beit Hashoevah is the greatest and most joyful gift ever. Since it is the simplest most essential substance, the water sacrifices demonstrate that we have absolutely no attachments to anything in the world, except Hashem. “Vanity of vanities all is vanity” (Koheleth 1:2). Hence, we are not trying to prove our self-worth by bringing animal and wine sacrifices, which require proper preparation and financial means. We have even detached ourselves from our individual Torah knowledge and wisdom, as we stand like naked before Hashem. We all experience total equality, when stripping off our outer layers of selves. Then we are in total tune with our inner common core consisting mainly of the primal substance of water. We are the receivers of the greatest gifts, when we share love and touch others as in the unification of the upper and the lower waters during Simchat Beit Hashoevah.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Yonah – A Lesson of Self-awareness

Dear Friends,
Hope you had a spirited prayerful Rosh Hashana, as we did here at Midreshet B'erot Bat Ayin, where more than twenty women prayed, learned, shared words of Torah, sang and crowned Hashem together. For some of the participants this was their first religious Rosh Hashana experience. Many of the women told me personally how moved and inspired they were from our Rosh Hashana celebration. Now we look forward to face Hashem and ourselves on Yom Kippur. For me, the highlight has always been the story of Yonah, followed by the neilah service. I have put together some deeper explanations on the book of Yonah for you, based on my teachings for many years. I hope my writing will help you connect to your Neshama (soul), as Yonah is a parable for our soul.

Shana Tovah U'Metukah!
May your year be good and sweet!
G'Mar Chatimah Tovah!
May you be sealed in the book of life, of fruitfulness and excitement, connectedness, love, youthfulness, health, fulfillment and shalom!

Click here for a printable version
Yonah – A Lesson of Self-awareness
On Yom Kippur afternoon, after having been praying, fasting and elevating our souls, we gather to hear the mysterious story of Yonah, the fleeing prophet. Through this story, we are propelled to face Hashem in the deepest, innermost way, during the final neilah prayer – the peak of the Yom Kippur service. Much more than an intriguing children’s story, Yonah refers to the soul, dispatched by G-d into the body, in order to learn to find Hashem, even in the furthermost places (Zohar 2, 199a). Like Yonah, each one of us is sent down to earth in order to fulfill a specific mission, however, we spend most of our lives running away and hiding from our inner selves. Whether we are lead astray by fallen pleasures (represented by Tarshis –Alshich, Yonah 1:3), exterior voices of self-righteousness (“I knew it!” – Yonah 4:2), depression, or despair, (“take, please, my life from me” – Ibid. 3), we are all, eventually, called to face our innermost being, where the Divine resides. After having peeled off layer by layer of kelipot – exterior shells during the ten days of repentance, and the repeated Vidui (confession) sessions, we got to the core when the story of Yonah prompts us to face ourselves.

Who am I really and where am I Headed?
The four questions posed by the captain to Yonah, (1:8) are really four questions that envelop every Jew throughout the stages of our lives. מַה מְּלַאכְתְּךָ –“What is your work?” Is your task on earth to just work for the sake of receiving a salary, or to serve G-d in your particular way? מֵאַיִן תָּבוֹא –“Where do you come from?”Did you emanate only from a drop of semen, that you should cling to worldly pleasures, or are you a creation of G-d sent directly from the Garden of Eden? מָה אַרְצֶךָ – “What is your country?” Are you a mortal creature of earth, or an immortal being from the Land of Life? אֵי מִזֶּה עַם אָתָּה – “Of what people are you?” What is your responsibility as a Jew in the world? These verses are reflected in the voice of our conscience stirring from within, asking ourselves why we are here, why we were sent, and what we have done with our life? Through Yonah’s answers, “I am a Hebrew; and I fear Hashem the G-d of heaven, who has made the sea and the dry land” (ibid. 9), we recover a glimmer of purpose: I am here to fulfill the mission of Hashem.

From the Very Place of Escape We Ultimately Return to Hashem and Ourselves
On the journey towards ourselves, we often have to go down to the depths like Yonah. In chapter 1, the root ירד (going down) appears four times, twice in verse 2 and twice in verse 5. It is interesting to note that also the word for going to sleep – וַיֵּרָדַם derives from the root “to go down.” Sleep is the ultimate going down, the ultimate escape. However, within the ultimate depths of sleep is a kernel of closeness to G-d, since dreams are one sixtieths of prophesy (Babylonian Talmud, Berachot 57b). Though Yonah may be escaping the reality of life, he is ultimately bringing himself closer to his inner world, where nothing exists but Hashem. “One pursues something by running away from it” (Adam Phillips). It often happens in life, that our fears become self-fulfilling prophesies. Wherever we escape to, we are challenged with the very same issue from which we escaped. Yonah, as an escape artist, teaches us that just as you cannot run away from G-d, neither can you run away from others or from yourself. Yonah was running away from helping the gentiles to repent, yet through his very escape, he actually caused the sailors to convert (Rashi, Yonah 1:16). Until we have completed the tikun with a particular person, that archetype will re-appear in our lives, the more we try to avoid dealing this type of person.

Innate Fear of the Intimacy of Being Present
Ibn Ezra noticed that the word ברח – to escape, is usually connected with the word מפני. Only in the book of Yonah does it appear together with the word מִלִּפְנֵי. Yonah wasn’t just running away from Hashem, he was running away from beingמִלִּפְנֵי ה' – before/in the presence of Hashem (Yonah 1:3). The word Yonah also means dove. Our soul is like a bird trapped in the cage of our routine. Just as our habits trap and block us from self awareness, so does the desire to fly away/ flee, on the other end of the spectrum take us away from standing before G-d. The עמידה – the silent prayer, literarily “the standing,” is our central prayer, especially on Yom Kippur, when we are standing and acknowledging that we cannot fly. In our effort to stand in the presence of G-d, we recognize our fear to be present and our tendency to run away from becoming keenly aware of our dependency on Hashem’s constant grace. Like Yonah, we cannot bear to recognize that our existence hangs between life and death. We quickly move forward into the thought that everything will be alright without realizing that true emunah is accepting that even if it’s not going to be “alright,” it is still really alright. In a class with Aviva Zornberg many years ago, I learned that Yonah’s prayer from within the fish is actually an after-prayer, escaping from the presence of Hashem. Although Yonah is in mortal danger, and the fish could become his grave, unless Hashem saves him. Nevertheless, he prays in the past tense as if he was already saved. “I was in trouble and you saved me.” The merciful [Hashem] wants our heart” (Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 106b). He wants our attentiveness, readiness, intimacy, desire and even fear. Any kind of pain is really a wake up call, towards awareness of feeling and being in the present. Just as G-d prepared – וימן storm/fish /wind/castor-oil-plant/worm, for Yonah, He continues to insert experiences into human time, in order to make us feel this and that, so that we become really present in the moment.

Playing Mind Games with Hashem
The book of Yonah has exactly 48 verses which is the numerical value of the word מח – brain. There is an inner struggle in the book of Yonah between mind and heart. Rabbi Rivlin explains that the nature of prophets is to express emet, truth. The blessings of the Haftorah from the prophets read: ובנביאי האמת והצדק שרצה בדבריהם הנאמרים ...באמת… – Who has chosen their faithful [true] words… in the truth of the prophets of truth and justice…” With our minds we are trying to grasp truth and justice. Although not always possible, we try to make sense out of what we see in this world. Most of the times, we forget that our mind is so limited. Even the prophet is far from understanding the way Hashem runs His world. He can only see what Hashem allows him to see. Yonah is בן אמתי –the son of truth (Yonah 1:1). Yonah “disagreed” with G-d, maintaining the importance of truth rather than chesed. Chesed can be disturbing from the vantage point of justice, and teshuva isn’t really fair. Why should the wicked people be saved? Don’t they deserve to be punished? “They asked Prophecy, ‘What is the punishment of sinners?’ She told them, ‘The soul of the sinner will die.’ They asked the Holy One ‘What is the punishment of the sinner?’ He answered ‘Let him do teshuva and be atoned for’” (Jerusalem Talmud, Makot 7a). When Yonah recounts from the thirteen principles of Hashem’s mercy, he leaves out the word אֱמֶתֹ – emet – truth. Yonah was insinuating that G-d was too kind to the people of Nineve. His mercy and forgiveness are not truly deserved by the people of Nineve, since their teshuva is not a true teshuva. The order of the words חנון ורחום – gracious and merciful – are inverted, perhaps in order to emphasize the word חנון which means מתנת חינם- a free gift. Just as Yonah seems to know better than Hashem what is just and fair, we also play mind games with Hashem. In truth, the gift of teshuva and atonement is never really fair, for who can claim to repent in the deepest and truest way?
Hashem’s Love Beyond Grasp and Discernment
Hashem touches Yonah’s heart through the growth of the castor oil plant, but it immediately wilts. He experiences on his own body how the world cannot continue through truth and judgment without chesed. Just as Yonah is unable to exist unprotected against the sun, so is the world unable to exist under G-d's justice alone. A veil between G-d's justice and His creation is necessary, in order that the creation will not be consumed by fire. This veil also conceals G-d's presence in the world, and makes it impossible for us to fully understand G-d's ways. Trying to grasp with our mind, rather than feeling and experiencing is a way of escaping Hashem. In our attempt to grasp Hashem’s ways, we are taking control rather than allowing ourselves to experience how we are being controlled by Hashem. On the Day of Atonement, it is encouraging to know how G-d will accept our teshuva even if it is far from being perfect. On Yom Kippur, G-d's unconditional love for us is manifested beyond reason. It is our job to receive and surrender, rather than trying to grasp Hashem’s ways. Perhaps, this is why the book of Yonah ends in a most absurd question: “…and should not I have pity on Nineveh, that great city, wherein are more than six-score thousand persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand, and also much cattle?” (Yonah 4:11).

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Tashlich Prayer

Every Rosh Hashanah, on the first afternoon, a short while before sunset, I’ve been joining my community in the ritual of Tashlich (literally “to cast forth”). We go to a place of natural water (lakes, rivers or sea) where there are fish. Here in Bat Ayin, we all go to “The Ma’ayan”  (Wellspring). There, we recite the prescribed prayer, including tehillim, meditate, and shake out the corners of our clothes. I have always loved the mellow meditative Tashlich ritual, without really being able to properly explain its meaning neither to myself, nor to my questioning students. This year I decided to face tashlich with more mindfulness. By researching the ritual of Tashlich and learning the lessons of the mysterious nature of water, I hope to discover the hidden depths of this ritual and heighten the awareness of Divinity innate within each of our hearts and souls.

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Spirited Water
I have always felt that there is something very spiritual about praying near water. G-d can be found near sources of water. “The spirit of Hashem is hovering over the surface of the water…” (Bereishit 1:2) ספר בראשית פרק א:ב וְרוּחַ אֱלֹהִים מְרַחֶפֶת עַל פְּנֵי הַמָּיִם
Our Yishuv Bat Ayin, “daughter of the eye or wellspring” flows with spirituality and prayer from its many wellsprings. Ba’al Haturim explains (Bereishit 16:7) that it is good to pray near water, as prayer is compared to water. “Pour out your heart like water before the face of G-d…” (Eicha 2:19).
... ספר איכה ב:יט: שִׁפְכִי כַמַּיִם לִבֵּךְ נֹכַח פְּנֵי אֲדֹנָי
The fluidity of water represents change.
After Adam was driven out from Eden, he repented by sitting by the river (Pirkey d'Rabbi Eliezer 20). In this way, he tried to maintain a link with the Garden. Water represents the womb of creation. Ego is the essence of permanence, while water is the essence of impermanence. Mayim- begins with the word Ma – What? We can nullify our ego with the question Ma – “What am I?” When we are willing to replace our ego with a question, then we are ready to be reborn with its answer. The Japanese water-crystal scientist, Masaru Emoto, found that the magnetic resonance of water is sensitive to our feelings and actions. Thus, he recommends that we avoid accumulating negative feelings, and that we recite blessings over our food and water.

Water and Unity
Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach notes that the creation of water is never even mentioned in the Torah. Water is a bit like before the creation of the world. This world is about duality, as it is created with the letter beit, which has the numerical value of two. Everything in this world comes in pairs: Heaven and Earth, Man and Woman, summer and winter, me and you, us and Hashem. In contrast, Hashem’s unity is reflected in the water. Water in Hebrew is always in the language of plural – mayim. There is no word for just one drop of water. If we place one drop of water next to a second drop of water, the first drop of water will make room to absorb the second drop of water, until they completely merge. All our mistakes derive from the fact that we live in a world of duality. They derive from the divisions of walls that separate between people – from the distance between man and G-d. Therefore, on Rosh Hashana afternoon we connect ourselves to the unity of Hashem through water. During the era of the prophets we would coronate kings next to the water for the sake of unity in Israel. Therefore, the day we crown Hashem king, we go down to the banks of water, in order to connect ourselves to the water, to connect ourselves to the great oneness of G-d, so apparent in the mystical properties of the water. (Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, Lev Hashamayim, Rosh Hashana).

The Origin of Tashlich
Tashlich originated in Europe in the mid 1500's, and is mentioned the first time in Sefer Maharil, by the 14th century Rabbi Ya’acov Moelin. He explains that the custom of going to a body of water is in order to commemorate the binding of Yitzchak. This is based on the midrash. (Yalkut Shimoni, Bereishit Chapter 22, Allusion 99), which relates that one of the tests Avraham faced, on the way to perform the Akeidah, was that a deep stream of water appeared and blocked the road before him. Avraham would not be deterred and together with his son Yitzchak, cast himself into the water, in order to reach Mount Moriah. Tashlich recalls this episode which possibly took place on Rosh Hashana. By casting our “sins” into the water, we request Hashem’s forgiveness in the merit of Avraham and our willingness to emulate him. Tashlich originated in Germany and became adopted by many Azhkenazi communities. Later, it was embraced by the Ariz”al and thus spread to the Sephardic communities. The name of the Tashlich ceremony is derived from the verse in Michah (7:19) which states, “Once again show us mercy, subdue our iniquities, and cast forth all their sins into the depths of the sea...” (Michah 7:19)
ספר מיכה פרק ז: יט יָשׁוּב יְרַחֲמֵנוּ יִכְבּשׁ עֲוֹנֹתֵינוּ וְתַשְׁלִיךְ בִּמְצֻלוֹת יָם כָּל חַטֹּאתָם: Yashuv yerachameinu, yichbosh avonoteinu, veTashlich bimtzulot yam, kol chatotam.

The Whereabouts of Tashlich
I remember my first Tashlich when I attended a Yeshiva in Jerusalem. We would go to a cistern and recite Tashlich over an open manhole surrounded by cobbles stones. No wonder that Tashlich didn’t hold much meaning for me then. Now, I have learned that it is preferable to recite Tashlich at a flowing, natural body of water preferable containing fish, located outside the city boundaries (Magen Avraham 583:5; Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 129:21). Going to the Ma’ayan (natural spring) in Bat Ayin fulfills all these requirements. There are even goldfish swimming in the heart of the spring.

Why Not Bread Crumbs?
My husband remembers going with his family to a lake and throwing bread crumbs in the water. Many of my students are surprised that we do not practice this custom, which is not condoned in halacha. Several Sages, from the Maharil to the Aruch Hashulchan (Rabbi Yechiel Epstein, late 19th Century), including the Vilna Gaon prohibit the practice of casting bread into the water to be eaten by the fish or wildlife. The Shulchan Aruch writes (OC 497:2) that it is prohibited to feed animals on Yom Tov, lest one come to trap them. Furthermore, since the breadcrumbs are not needed for the holiday it is forbidden to carry the breadcrumbs outside the eruv.

Shaking Out the Hems of Our Clothes
Perhaps, the custom of throwing bread into the water derives from people’s need to throw something tangible, rather than shaking out seemingly empty pockets. However, according to Ariza”l the shaking of our garments over the water symbolizes shaking away our spiritual kelipot, (husks).We shake out our pockets and the folds of our clothing three times during Tashlich in order to rid ourselves of any residue of sin. This practice also represents our heart's intention to cast away and be totally cleansed of transgression. The Rashban explains (OC 210) that throwing something into the water is a symbolic enactment of the verse in Michah: “Cast into the depths of the sea all of their sins.” He further notes that a precursor for our current Tashlich ritual originated in Biblical times as found in the book of Nechemiah.
ספר נחמיה פרק ה:יג גַּם חָצְנִי נָעַרְתִּי וָאֹמְרָה כָּכָה יְנַעֵר הָאֱלֹהִים אֶת כָּל הָאִישׁ אֲשֶׁר לֹא יָקִים אֶת הַדָּבָר הַזֶּה
I too have shaken out my cloak, saying, Thus shall
G-d shake out all those who shall fail to abide by this promise...” (Nechemyah 5:13). Tashlich teaches us that whatever sins come to us through the temptations of daily life, acts of arrogance, fits of anger, moments of weakness, or times of despair, none of these transgressions become part of ourselves. Just like they aren't what we really want to be, they never become who we are. They remain a superficial coating that can be scrubbed off, disowned, and cast away at any time. Tashlich teaches us that we can change and improve, because at our core we are holy and pure – a spark of the Divine. When gazing mindfully at the calming, rushing waters, we may begin to comprehend Hashem’s immeasurable and limitless love for us, calling us to return in complete teshuva.

Recycling Our Sins
In accordance with the “eco-kosher” perspective of Tashlich, rather than “throwing away,” we actually recycle our sins. Today, it is impossible to throw anything away, as there is no longer any place called “away.” If instead, we cast our mistakes or transgressions to be neutralized, to become biodegradable, we will be able to recycle them without causing pollution. When we think about what we learn from each mistake thrown into the waters, we are able to “recycle,” and transform its potential for mitzvot. Tears are our emotion recycled through water. The waters of Tashlich symbolize the environment in which we recycle our unresolved situations or relationships.

The Symbolism of Fish
Tashlich is recited near a body of water that contains fish. In Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 129:21, it states “Just as fish are caught in the net, we are caught in the net of death and judgment.” Seeing fish, during Tashlich, therefore awakens us to teshuva, by reminding us that our life is full of traps and temptations. Just as fish are prey to nets and hooks, so too, are we in danger of the hooks of the yetzer hara. If we fail to watch our conduct, we may be caught in a net of troubles. Ultimate freedom from these hooks and nets of transgression lies in sincere repentance. The Rema in Darkei Moshe (OC 583) states that fish represent the bracha that B’nei Yisrael should be fruitful like fish who lay many eggs. Just as fish are submerged under the water, and protected from ayin hara, so too do we pray that Hashem protect us from the evil eye. Since fish do not have eyelids, their eyes are always open. We pray that the eternally compassionate eye of G-d will always protect and watch over us. Although nothing can be hidden from G-d, we gain hope from our faith in Him, who never sleeps. While standing before water containing fish during Tashlich, we remind ourselves of Rabbi Akiva’s teaching, “Just like the fish cannot live without water, so can Israel not live without Torah.” We, moreover, pray that Israel merit favorable judgment due to our thirst for Torah learning. The midrash teaches: “Just as fish who live in water nevertheless drink with thirst every drop of rain that falls as though they never had tasted water before, so too, Israel who thrive on the waters of Torah, nevertheless drink with thirst each new saying of Torah” (Midrash Rabah, Parashat Yayechi).

Nourishing Potential and Keeping us Flowing
Torah is compared to water as nothing can grow without water. Water actualizes all the potential hidden in the earth. Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach asks, “Why doesn’t the earth sprout forth without water?” The reason is that the water tells the earth: “You know what you have in you? You have so much inner potential, so many treasures” All that is lacking in all those people that still didn’t grow and find the strength to change, is just a bit of water. On Rosh Hashana we ask Hashem, “Master of the Universe, transform me to a drop of water, so that I can tell everyone how much goodness is hidden within them. So I can help them grow nicely.” Many of our mistakes derive from the fact that we are not flowing זורמים. There are a lot of great, sweet people, but everything by them comes in attacks, like a small goodness attack, a small Judaism attack, a small holiness attack. What about becoming easygoing and flowing like water? When we go down to the water, we mamash pray very strongly: “Master of the Universe, please let our lives flow, please let our love flow, please let our Judaism flow! Through the Tashlich, we reverse the way of Narcissus, who falls in love with his own image. We throw into the water shards of our broken heart, which are its imperfections. Our heart then remerges into a greater whole as “nothing is more whole than a broken heart...” Water – Mayim is intrinsically connected with heaven – Shamayim. We pray that our prayer arrives at the very deepest, highest place of reunion between the lower and upper waters, in the Oneness beyond the duality of creation.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Dancing on the Bridge of Redemption

Haftorat Nitzavim - Vayelech
Yesha’yahu 61:10-63:9

Dearest Friends,
I was excited to learn new insights about how redemption is compared to a Jewish wedding from this Haftorah. It also teaches us about setting and reaching our personal goals at this time before Rosh Hashana. I’d like to share with you some of my personal goals. At this stage of my life when the children have left the nest, I’m finally working on my marriage, after having been completely absorbed by building the midrasha for the last fourteen years. I have set aside times to learn with my husband, to take walks and to communicate on a deeper level. I’m also focusing more inwardly in my practice of spiritual healing. Now the art of fundraising just doesn’t fit into the rest of my personal goals at this stage of my life. So I pray to Hashem that you will all open your hearts and donate generously to our midrasha who open its doors to so many spiritual thirsting women with no means of paying full tuition.

Please make your generous donation in honor of my 50th birthday and the High Holidays!
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Rosh Hashana and Redemption
The last haftorah we read before Rosh Hashana is the climax of the seven week series on redemption. In this final presentation, Hashem proclaims His personal return to the Jewish people. This reflects the feeling of Rosh Hashana when we raise ourselves up from the fallen darkness of exile, to once again face the King of Kings. Rosh Hashana celebrates the creation of Man and Woman. This is the time to contemplate whether we are living up to the purpose for which we were originally created. Hashem originally created us as perfect vessels for His light to shine through, within the radiance of His Garden. In Elul, we work on becoming a pure vessel, ready to be filled with Hashem’s life-giving light on Rosh Hashana. As we prepare for Rosh Hashana, we are inspired to work on our individual redemption, contemplating what our personal goals are, and the best way to reach them.

The Wedding of Redemption
The prophet begins on a high note, describing the great joy that we will experience with the Final Redemption, by comparing it to the joy of a newly married couple. Redemption is indeed, the ultimate wedding between Hashem – the groom and the Congregation of Israel – His beautifully adorned bride. “I will rejoice with Hashem; my soul shall exult with my G-d, for He has dressed me in garments of salvation, with a robe of righteousness He has enwrapped me; like a bridegroom, who, priestlike, dons garments of glory, and like a bride, who adorns herself with her jewelry” (Yesha’yahu 61:10). According to Malbim, the adornment of the bride symbolizes our spiritual work which enables us to become worthy of redemption. G-d, then, wraps the “robe of righteousness” on top of our clothes for everyone to see. This symbolizes that at the time of redemption, everyone will recognize our righteousness. The whole world will recognize the righteousness and truth of the G-d of Israel, His Torah and His people. In case we feel a bit overwhelmed regarding all this talk about redemption, and wonder “where does it leave me?” Malbim explains that as part of the universal redemption, every person will also experience his or her personal redemption. We learn this from the metaphor of the “garments of salvation” with which Hashem dresses us. As opposed to the “robe” which is not sewn exactly according to the person’s measurements, but is a rather lose-fitting overcoat, the “garments of salvation” are sewn exactly to fit each one’s personal measure, according to Hashem’s individual providence. This teaches us that redemption is not an abstract impersonal concept out there somewhere in space and time. It is also about “me” reaching my personal goals: whether by losing weight, learning to play the harp, praying from the depths of my heart, or increasing deeds of kindness. Becoming all I can be is my ultimate “wedding gift” from Hashem.

Dancing on the Bridge of Redemption
I have always felt when dancing at a wedding in Jerusalem or the mountains of Judea, that I’m experiencing the redemption right now. The simcha (joy) is so powerful, breaking all the bonds of exile, as the Shechina joins us in our exuberant dancing. Our haftorah confirms my experience, by comparing redemption to a wedding. Inversely, every wedding contains a spark of the light of Redemption. Why is redemption compared to a marriage? The tikun (rectification) of the world is to bring about unity, that we may return us to the blessed Garden of Creation. Before eating from the Tree of Knowledge, all reality was unified. There was no separation between man and woman, this world and the Coming World, not even between humanity and G-d. As soon as we ate from the Tree of Knowledge, good and evil became crystallized in the world, and caused separation between all realms of creation. Redemption is all about returning reality to its original unified existence, before eating from the forbidden fruit. This means, that when I work on finding peace within myself, by unifying my intellect with my emotions, my body with my soul, and my actions with my intention, I’m building the bridge of redemption. When people overcome their conflicts/irritation/disputes with one another, and make true peace also in their heart, they are walking on the bridge of redemption. However, there is no greater unification than the love between the bride and groom on their wedding night. Therefore, a Jewish marriage causes the very greatest tikun for our split reality. At a holy wedding, our dancing, hopping, skipping and leaping on the bridge of redemption, brings us towards its culmination.

Everlasting Growth of Closeness to Hashem
Yesha’yahu moves from the wedding imagery to describe the seedlings which symbolize growth on all levels. “For, like the earth, which gives forth its plants, and like a garden that causes its seeds to grow, so shall Hashem, G-d cause righteousness and praise to grow in the face of all the nations” (Ibid. 11). Radak explains that just as seeds rot in the earth before the growth of the plant causes it to become ever more beautiful, likewise even after Israel has lost all hope during our devastating exile, we will reach even higher heights than ever before. We will become fruitful and multiply, as each seed sprouts forth a new plant. Just as each season buds flower and grow fruit, so will we experience new wonders at each stage of redemption. Rather than becoming stagnant, our relationship with Hashem will always be one of growth and development, constantly bringing us closer and closer. Each newly gained level of closeness will be so precious and dear that we will experience it as a completely new relationship with all of its sensation and appreciation.

Hashem’s First and Only “Wife”
Yet, we may be concerned that the wedding of the redemption could be lacking this newness, and rather compare to a remarriage, since Israel was already “Hashem’s wife” before He rightfully rejected us. Even if Hashem truly becomes reconciled with Israel, it would not feel as joyful and special, as when a young man lives with his bride for the very first time. The prophet responds to this concern, and reveals that this is far from the truth. The unification related to our redemption entails a fresh start containing the excitement and novelty of the very highest joy between the young bridegroom and his virgin bride. “As a young man lives with a virgin, so shall your children live in you, and the rejoicing of a bridegroom over a bride shall your G-d rejoice over you” (Yesha’yahu 62:5). Like a young couple standing under the chuppah for the very first time, forging their eternal bond with love and respect, Hashem's newly founded relationship with His people will be so perfectly fulfilling that it won't leave room for remembering the past. Rabbi David Siegel notes that the prophet describes not only our feelings, but also how Hashem’s feelings towards His people are literally boundless, as he Himself will forever rejoice over us with the sensation of a groom over His newly acquired bride. Although we have gone astray repeatedly, Hashem will erase our past, and unite with us in the very deepest way.

Consummating Intimate Relations With Hashem in the Land
Radak explains that this incredible new relationship is expressed by the Jewish people’s return to their land. Other nations’ inhabiting the Land of Israel is compared to an old man living with a virgin. However, this cannot be compared to the simcha and unification that takes place when the Jewish people settle the Holy Land. Only in the Land of Israel can our new, eternal relationship with Hashem be consummated. “…Desolate shall no longer be said of your land, for you shall be called ‘My desire is in her,’ and your land, ‘inhabited,’ for Hashem desires you, and your land shall be inhabited” (Yesha’yahu 62:4). The word translated here as “inhabited” is the same term used for intimate relations. The inexpressible dimension of our eternal, intimate relationship with Hashem, is expressed by inhabiting the Holy Land infused with Hashem’s Presence. In all other countries there is a klipa (foreskin/barrier) separating us from our highest self – the spark of Hashem within us, which prevents us from being intimate with the Divine. The Land of Israel, however, is a circumcised land, completely illuminated by the Shechina. Only in this Holy Land can our intimate relationship with Hashem reach its highest eternal expression, continuously producing the endless love of a bride and groom for all eternity.

Rebbetzin Chana Bracha and Rav Mechael