Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Developing our Feminine Attribute of Binah

These last few Haftorot are so inspiring and jam-packed with stories of heroic women. From our haftorah, we learn that it is specifically by developing our feminine attribute of “binah” that we can have an impact on the world, giving birth to the cosmic redemption. Learning about how the Davidic line was ensured by the special binah of Rivka and Bat Sheva, inspires us to develop this quality in ourselves to build our homes and thereby the Jewish Nation. 

Haftorat Parashat Chayei Sarah
1 Melachim, Chapter 1:1-31
Women Determine the Lineage of G-d’s Selected People
This week’s Haftorah, from the beginning of the Book of Kings, describes how the true lineage of King David is assured. This parallels the Torah reading of Parashat Chayei Sarah which describes the selection of Rivkah who ensured that Ya’acov received the birthright, and thereby became the carrier of the spiritual mission of his fathers. Just as Rivkah who understood the true nature of her sons, took action to ascertain that only the worthy son received his father’s blessing, Bat-Sheva too, convinced King David to crown her son Shlomo. The connection between the Torah reading and its haftorah teaches us about the important role of women in determining the lineage of G-d’s selected people. Even if the kings are men, their kingship is totally dependant on women, without whom Hashem’s chosen king, would never be able to reign.

Binah – The Ability to Distinguish
What gives women this ability to discern the true heir of G-d’s spiritual mission and bring about his selection? Women are known to have binah yeterah (Midrash Rabah, Bereishit 18:1). This term is usually translated as “extra intuition.” The root of the word binah is connected with the word bein which means between. Binah, therefore, entails the ability to distinguish between different or opposing matters. It is this quality that gave both Rivkah and Bat-Sheva the ability to clearly discern who Hashem had selected to be the successor of their husbands. Likewise, the attribute of binah is required for taking the necessary steps in order to ensure that only the son who is worthy becomes the next in line. Through her exceptional binah, Rivkah understood that being direct with her husband would not accomplish her goal. However, every man and situation is different. By employing the quality of binah, Bat-Sheva knew how to explain the matter directly to King David, in a way that would convince him. Malbim notes, for example, that Bat-Sheva omitted mentioning how the rival king Adonyahu had invited all King David’s servants to his coronation. This was in order not to discourage her husband and make him fear a revolt. On the contrary, she empowered him by emphasizing how the eyes of all Yisrael were upon David, relying on him to choose his successor (1 Melachim 1:20). This encouragement was especially important at that time, when David was lying on his deathbed, and may have lacked the strength to take action, if not for the support of his devoted wife. Thus, without Bat-Sheva the Davidic dynasty may not have been established.

The Son of Chagit
How did Adonyahu have the chutzpah to get himself crowned during his father’s lifetime, and disregard the prophecy that Hashem had selected Shlomo as the next king? The verse states about Adonyahu “…he also was a very good looking man; and his mother bore him after Avshalom” (1 Melachim 1:6). Yet, it mentioned in the previous verse that Adonyahu’s mother was Chagit, whereas Avshalom’s mother was Ma’akah (2 Shemuel 3:3). Rashi explains that although Adonayhu had a different mother than Avshalom, the verse connects them because Chagit raised Adonyahu in the same way that Ma’akah raised Avshalom. It is likely that the mothers’ emphasis on external appearance and self-indulgence caused both of these sons to become self-centered and power-greedy. In addition to being handsome and charismatic, Adonyahu was able to assemble a large group of followers, because many people doubted whether it was permissible to crown Shlomo as the next king. Since David’s initial relation with Bat-Sheva was problematic, they were questioning whether Bat Sheva’s offspring was fit to sit on the throne.

Perfect Repentance Through Avishag the Shunamite
The beginning of the Book of Kings comes to verify that King Shlomo indeed is King David’s rightful successor. This is why the Book of Kings begins with the bizarre story about how a beautiful virgin is brought to warm David during his old age (1 Melachim 1:1-4). My teacher at Michlaha, Rav Carmel, explained that in order for Shlomo to become the next king, David had to prove that he indeed had repented from the incidence with Bat-Sheva. Although David shared his bed with the most beautiful young virgin in the whole country, “The king had no intimacy with her” (1 Melachim 1:4). Since David already had eighteen wives – the maximum allowed for a king – he held himself back from living with Avishag the Shunamite, in spite of her beauty and closeness to him. This proves that David had attained the highest level of repentance – teshuvat hamishkal – which requires overcoming the desire to sin despite being in the exact same situation with equally powerful temptations as when originally committing the transgression.

Even during Old Age – A Man Remains a Man
Perhaps David had now become old and weak, no longer having the same desire, as many years ago, when he first spotted Bat-Sheva bathing on the roof? This is indeed Avishag’s argument to David, when he refuses to marry her. The Talmud asks: What are the facts regarding Avishag? – It is written, “King David was old, stricken in years…” (1 Melachim 1:1). Further it is written, “They sought for him a beautiful maiden…” (Ibid. 3); and it is written, “And the maiden [Avishag] was very beautiful, and she attended the king and ministered unto him” (Ibid. 4). She said to him, ‘Let us marry,’ but he [David] said, ‘You are forbidden to me.’ ‘When courage fails the thief, he becomes virtuous,’ she mocked. Then he said to them [his servants], ‘Call me Bat-Sheva’ “And Bat-Sheva went to the king into the chamber” (1 Melachim 1:15). Rav Yehudah said in Rav’s name, ‘On that occasion Bat-Sheva dried herself thirteen times’ [i.e. they had consecutive intercourse] (Sanhedrin 22a). This anecdote clearly shows that David had indeed repented in the very highest way, and that it was not because he was too old that he held himself back from taking Avishag. It, moreover, teaches us that women should not be lax in tzniut (modesty) just because a man is very old. No matter how old, a man is still a man!

Bat-Sheva’s Role in Bringing the Mashiach
Bat-Sheva gets the last word in this week’s Haftorah as she blesses King David, “Let my lord King David live forever” (1 Melachim 1:31). The Brisker Rav (Rabbi Yitzchak Zev HaLevi Soleveitchik) asks why Bat-Sheva only uttered this blessing now and not beforehand. He explains, according to Rambam (Perek Chelek, 12), that Mashiach must come from the house of David and specifically from the seed of King Shlomo, as it states “…He has chosen Shlomo my son to sit upon the throne of the kingdom of Hashem over Israel…I will establish his kingdom forever… (1 Divrei Hayamim 28:5-6). Only through the selection of Shlomo is the eternal house of David established. Therefore, David’s promise to Bat Sheva, that “Indeed, your son Shlomo shall reign after me” (1 Melachim 1:30), laid the foundation for his everlasting royal lineage, culminating in the Mashiach, as his direct descendant. This explains why Bat-Sheva could only bless David with eternal life, after he had sworn to crown Shlomo. From this we learn about Bat Sheva’s impact on the Messianic lineage, and her keen awareness of the importance of Mashiach who was to descend from the relationship between her and King David. Likewise, today, we women are the movers and shakers in bringing about the final sprout of David.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Power of Women’s Emunah

Shabbat Shalom...
I’m excited about this week’s haftorah which is all about how the power of women’s emunah brings about Hashem’s miracles in the world. When Sarah was told that she would bear a son in this week’s parashah, she laughed within herself. Most commentaries explain this laughter as indicating a slight lack of emunah. The steadfast emunah of the women in our corresponding haftorah rectifies her minor lack of emunah. Ovadia’s wife went deep into debt, in order to save and sustain the prophets of Hashem. With the help of the prophet Elisha, the light of her emunah became miraculously transformed into oil, with which Ovadia’s widow could pay off her debt and sustain her family. Through the unfaltering emunah of the Shunamite women, she was able to cause her beloved son to be revived. Today, we too, can link ourselves to their chain of emunah, to revive the spirit of our people and continue to plant and rebuild our Land!

Haftorat Parashat Vayera
2 Melachim, Chapter 4:1-37
The Miracle of the Perpetual Oil – Emanating from Our Inner Light
This week’s Haftorah includes two stories about two different righteous women who turned to the prophet Elisha. The first woman, described in the beginning of our Haftorah, is identified by Rashi as the wife of Ovadia. She is called “One woman” (2 Melachim 4:1), to indicate that she is special and important. This woman had become impoverished, because together with her husband Ovadia, they had sustained one hundred prophets. They had kept these prophets hidden in two caves, out of sight from the wicked Queen Izevel, who desired to kill them (1 Melachim 18:13). When the creditor came to take her two sons as slaves, Ovadia’s widow cried out to Elisha for help (2 Melachim 4:1). Elisha then instructed the woman to use a pot of oil – the only thing she had inside her home – as the medium upon which Hashem’s blessing would fall. The oil miraculously increased, according the capacity of the many empty vessels, the woman was told to borrow from all her neighbors. By selling the oil, the woman was able to pay back her debt and sustain herself and her sons. The oil symbolizes light and teaches us that we can draw down Hashem’s perpetual blessing, by getting in touch with our inner light and essence.

Worthy of Receiving Hashem’s Blessing Through Our Own Efforts
Hashem is Almighty and can create anything from nothing; why did He not create a new source of sustenance for Ovadia’s widow? Why was it important that she find something that already belonged to her, in order to receive Hashem’s blessing of increase? Rather than spoon-feeding us, Hashem desires to work together with us as a team. In order to receive Hashem’s blessing, the initial beginning must come from us. When we open ourselves towards Hashem as much as the eye of a needle, He opens for us the opening of the world (Song of Song Rabah, Parashah 5, Piska 3). This principle ties together this week’s parashah with the two parts of its Haftorah. Hashem blessed Sarah with the conception and birth of Yitzchak, because she had perfected herself by her modesty, hospitality, and self-sacrificing initiative to ensure that Avraham would have offspring. Likewise, the woman from Shunem, described in the remainder of our Haftorah, deserved the blessing of a child and his miraculous revival because of her greatness, generous hospitality, and righteousness.

The Bread of the Shunamite Woman
“It happened one day, that Elisha passed to Shunem, where there was a great woman, and she pressed him to eat bread. And so it was, that whenever he passed by, he turned aside there to eat bread” (2 Melachim 4:8). Rashi explains that the expression “great” refers to the importance of the woman, who was the sister of Avishag the Shunamite, King David’s last wife. Radak adds that she was wealthy and famous. According to Malbim, her greatness was expressed through her good deeds and great desire to feed the holy prophet Elisha. He would only eat in the home of the righteous, stipulating that they truly desired to give with their full heart. From the first time Elisha ate in the home of this righteous woman, he was aware that she offered her bread with the highest intention. Thereafter, he chose to pass by her home in order to give her the merit of this great mitzvah.

Sustaining Torah Scholars Makes the Shechinah Dwell
“Whoever hosts a Torah scholar in his home is considered as if he offered a sacrifice” (Berachot 10b). We learn this principle from the righteous woman in our Haftorah who told her husband, “I perceive that this is a holy man of G-d who passes by us continually” (2 Melachim 4:9). According to Malbim, she understood that just like sacrificing causes the Shechinah to dwell on Israel, so too does sustaining a Torah scholar, who is like the Ark of the Covenant in the Holy of Holies, where the Shechinah dwells. Therefore, the food which the woman offered with a pure heart to sustain the prophet, together with his holy intention while eating for the sake of Heaven, brought down the Divine Presence. Today, we women also have the ability to infuse our homes with the Shechinah by inviting and sustaining Torah scholars. When Rabbis visit from Israel, it’s an amazing opportunity to merit this great mitzvah, by taking care of their needs. In addition to providing food, the woman from Shunem arranged to make a separate chamber for the prophet, because she desired to make a dwelling place – Tabernacle – for the Shechinah, which dwelled on the prophet.

As the Time is Alive
As a reward for her hospitality, the woman in our Haftorah like Sarah in this week’s Parashah is promised to embrace a son, “About this time in the coming year” (Ibid. 16). The Hebrew expression Ka’Et Chayah – literally: “As the time is alive” is used in both places, since there is no time more alive than the time of giving birth. For just as Hashem is the life of the world, bringing a new soul into this world, brings down the life of the Divine Presence infused in the baby’s neshamah. The wisdom and foresight of the woman from Shunem is evident from her pleading, “No, my lord, you man of G-d do not disappoint your handmaid” (ibid.). With these words the woman implored Elisha, “Even if I will give birth to a son, if he would, G-d forbid, die afterwards, then what do I gain from your promise?”

The Power of Trust
“And the woman conceived and bore a son…” (ibid.17). However, after the child had grown, he became sick and died in his mother’s arms. Malbim notices how the Shunamite woman did not undertake any medical procedure because of her bitachon (trust) in the promise of the prophet. Even after the death of her son, she didn’t cry out or even tell her husband. She only laid him on the bed of the man of G-d, and requested a donkey so that she could “run to the man of G-d and then come back” (Ibid. 22). When her husband unknowingly asked, “Why do you go to him today? It is neither New Moon nor Shabbat?” (ibid. 23), she only answered a firm “Shalom.” Sefer Chassidim learns from this verse that it is a mitzvah for women to learn Torah, just like the Shunamite woman who would go to hear Elisha teach every Rosh Chodesh and Shabbat. When Elisha saw that she had come at an unusual time, he immediately understood that something was seriously wrong. The Shunamite woman went to Elisha and held on to his feet, to hint that she wouldn’t let him go until he agreed to walk with her. Malbim explains that usually when Hashem punishes someone, He first reveals the matter to the prophet, in order that he request mercy. From the fact that Hashem had hid the matter from him, Elisha recognized that the death of the child was not a punishment for any sin on the Shunamite’s part. He then followed her home, prayed to Hashem who revived the child through the acts of the prophet. Elisha “placed his mouth upon his mouth, his eyes upon his eyes, and his hands upon his hands…” (Ibid. 34), in order to allow for the three parts of his soul: nefesh, ruach and neshama, to return to his body. Which zchut (merit) caused this miraculous revival of the dead? I believe that it was the Shunamit’s remarkable trust in the goodness of Hashem’s blessing through the prophet that had the power to revive her son. We can learn about the power of belief from the trusting perseverance of this righteous woman. Miracles continue even today. Through persistent emunah we can move mountains. May we tap into this power of steadfast belief to bring about goodness in our lives and revive our people on the Land!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Physical and Spiritual Renewal

Shabbat Shalom…
Now that we finally have entered the month of Cheshvan, I enjoy the renewal of our daily routine following all the commotion of the holidays. After being loaded with all the lights of our spiritual experiences of Tishrei, we return to our daily day tasks with renewed strength.
I’m excited to teach such wonderful serious students, who are eager to learn and fulfill Hashem’s will. Both at the midrasha and in my personal garden we are busy sowing the winter crop of greens, fennel, carrots, radishes and beets. What a wonder to behold the seeds from the old dried up plants of last years crop shoot forth fresh young sprouts! This week’s Torah and Haftorah reading is in sync with this physical and spiritual renewal that we experience at this time of the year.

Haftorat Parashat Lech Lecha
Yesha’yahu, Chapter 40:27, Chapter 41:16
Trusting in Hashem brings Spiritual Renewal
Wouldn’t you love to be able to keep going at whatever you are doing tirelessly? How wonderful it would be to receive the renewed strength of youth even after being “over the hill?” The opening verses, of this week’s haftorah, taken from the end of Yesha’yahu chapter 40, ascribe both physical and spiritual renewal to those who trust in Hashem, “But those who place their hope in Hashem, shall renew their strength. They shall soar aloft with wings, as eagles. They will run, without becoming weary, they will go, and not become tired” (Yesha’yahu 40:31). In contrast to the young, described in the previous verse, “Even the youth shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fail” (Ibid. 30), those who trust in Hashem continue to receive renewed strength.

Returning the Strength of Our Youth
Just like the eagle sheds its feathers and receives a new set of feathers every ten years, so do the People of Israel have the power of renewal, even after their physical strength has waned (Radak, Yesha’yahu 40:31). This renewal is the foundation, upon which, the Jewish people are conceived. In Parashat Lech Lecha, the first Jewish mother, Sarah, receives the blessing of renewed youth at the age of eighty nine as it states, “I will bless her, and I will give you a son from her, I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations…” (Bereishit 17:16). Rashi explains that the first blessing refers to her restored youthfulness, while the second blessing refers to her being endowed with abundant milk to nurse.

Raising Israel from the Ruins of the Holocaust
I believe that the return of Sarah’s youth also serves as a metaphor for the Jewish people. At our weary our old age, after the long winding exile, we are receiving both spiritual and even physical renewal in our Land. While the other nations are shutting down their businesses, the economy of Israel is shooting forth as Metzudat David explains; “The young men [who] utterly fail” refer to the other nations. My parents, who live in Europe, noticed on their recent visit how the streets of Jerusalem are bursting with activity and new life. In contrast to many cities in Europe and North America, where the streets are empty due to the unfortunate fact that one store after the other closes down; my father was amazed at how busy the shoppers are in the streets of Jerusalem. “Why should I go to a museum and watch relics from ancient times gone by, when I can sit on a bench on Ben Yehuda Street and experience the current hustle and bustle of Israeli retail life?” asked my father. I happily agreed that we are observing the fulfillment of the prophesies of redemption in our time. “He [Hashem] gives power to the faint, and to the powerless He increases strength” (ibid 29). Hashem has raised His faint people from the ruins of the Holocaust, built us up and revived us in this Land.

Renewed With the Eagles’ Wings of Nefesh b’Nefesh
According to Metzudat David, those who place their hope in Hashem will grow wings like the eagles and fly to their land. The journey of returning to the Land of Israel will recharge them with the strength to continue to be on the go and run speedily without tiring. This can be compared to Avraham and Sarah who began their journey to the Land of Israel at the advanced age of seventy-five and sixty-five respectively. It is not such a big deal to make aliyah during one’s years of youth, as I, myself, can testify. I left my old country behind to move to Jerusalem at the age of nineteen. During the late teens and early “tweens” we look for adventure and change. However, as we grow older, we need the stability of settling down. Nevertheless, the fact that Avraham and Sarah made the journey to their home land at such an advanced age, paved the way for the many families with teenaged children, who now demonstrate their trust in Hashem by fastening the eagles’ wings of Nefesh b’Nefesh. The challenge of transplanting and adjusting the family to new surroundings falls primarily on the woman. It is the emunah and trust of the Jewish women of today that facilitate the new wave of North American immigration to Israel. At a time of old age, recession, and diminished strength, these women realize that we have the opportunity to rebuild ourselves and grow new roots on the soil of our sacred Land.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Haftorat Noach and Blessing in Disguise

This week’s haftorah is also partly read during the seven weeks between Tisha b’Av and Rosh Hashana in two different prophesies of consolation. (The third prophesy of consolation as Haftorat Re’eh, Yesha’yahu 54:11-55:5, and the fifth prophesy of consolation as Haftorat Ki Teitzei, Yesha’yahu 54:1-10). In Haftorat Re’eh I expounded upon the properties of the precious stones of the various tribes described in the haftorah, whereas in Haftorat Ki Teitzei I discussed the metaphors of Israel being compared to both a barren, divorced and widowed woman. You may be interested in reading these commentaries which also relate to our current haftorah. In this Haftorah, I focus on the connection to Parashat Noach, in addition to the disguised blessings of the barren woman, which I myself experienced in several ways throughout my more than fourteen years of secondary infertility.

Haftorat Parashat Noach
Yesha’yahu, Chapter 54
The Connection between the Haftorah and the Torah reading
Just as the world became rebuilt after the flood in Noach’s time, so will Yerushalayim become rebuilt and expanded with splendor, Jerusalem stones, brilliance and sapphires. We are called to learn the words of Yesha’yahu’s prophecies of consolation, and to fulfill the mitzvoth within them: To trust in Hashem’s deliverance, to make aliyah (immigrate) to the Land of Israel, and to cultivate its holy soil. Through these mitzvoth, we will, with Hashem’s help, merit the renewal of the kingdom of David (Amos Chacham, Da’at Mikra).

Between the Flood and our Present Exile
As a continuation of the covenant between Hashem and Noach, in this week’s haftorah, there is a promise that the covenant and love between Hashem and the Jewish people will be renewed and everlasting. Yesha’yahu compares the flood in the time of Noach with our present exile. “In the overflowing of anger, I concealed My face from you for a moment, but with everlasting kindness I will show My compassion, says Hashem, your redeemer. For this is to me, as with the waters of Noach. Just as I have sworn that the waters of Noach should never again flood the earth, so have I sworn never again to become angry with you, nor rebuke you” (Yesha’yahu 54:8- 9). Just as the world will never experience a second flood, so will the Jewish people never experience another exile. Hashem's unconditional guarantee to withhold a flood from this world serves as a sound proof of the eternal redemption of the Jewish people.

The World is Renewed in the Merit of Reversal of Selfish Corruption
In order to elucidate the connection between Hashem’s promise never to flood the world again, and our forthcoming redemption, we need to understand the connection between Noach’s plight and our current exile. In Noach’s time, people became focused on themselves – pursuing their selfish desires without respecting the rights and wishes of anyone else. They considered everyone and their belongings as objects for satisfying their own personal needs. The fact that everyone cared only about himself had corrupted mankind as it states, “The land was corrupt before Hashem and the land was full of robbery” (Bereishit 6:11). The reestablishment of the world had to take place through the reversal of this selfish corruption. Since it was Noach and his family’s responsibility to restore morality to the world, they were charged with selfless caring for all the animals in the ark. The overwhelming responsibility of providing and tending to the needs of every living being with their varied feeding schedules, developed the kindness and compassion upon which the world became reestablished. According to the Midrash, this total reversal of priorities, focusing entirely on the needs of others, was the single merit through which the flood subsided and Noach's family was permitted to leave the Ark and reenter the world (Bereishit Rabbah 33:4).

The Eternal Quality of Hashem’s Loving-Kindness
In response to Noach’s and his family’s dedicated chesed (loving-kindness), Hashem promised humanity eternal kindness through which His covenant of peace would be everlasting. “For the mountains shall depart, and the hills be removed, but my chesed shall not depart from you, neither shall the covenant of my peace falter, says Hashem, Who has mercy on you” (Yesha’yahu 54:10). Malbim explains that chesed is eternal, since it is not dependant on the worthiness of the recipient. Therefore, Hashem’s covenant of peace, founded on this chesed, is by its very nature an eternal commitment. This chesed translates into the unconditional guarantee that no matter how undeserving the world becomes, it will never undergo total destruction, but be redeemed.

Chesed is the Focus of the Generation Preceding Mashiach
Rabbi Dovid Siegel explains that just as the people had to be engaged in chesed in order to enter the renewed world in Noach’s time, likewise the main service of the generation preceding Mashiach is to perform acts of selfless chesed. This can be learned from the fact that although we recite in the silent prayer, the G-d of Avraham, the G-d of Yitzchak, the G-d of Ya’acov, at the end of the first blessing, we bless Hashem as the protector of only Avraham. The following sentence of the prayer leads us straight to praising Hashem for reviving the dead. Whereas, the service of Yitzchak is sacrifice and prayer, and that of Ya’acov is Torah learning, it is Avraham’s chesed that leads us to the final redemption and revival of the dead. From this, we can learn that although there were generations whose main service was Torah learning or prayer, the focus of our generation – the launching pad for the Mashiach – is dedication to selfless chesed. I was very inspired by this insight, as I am often annoyed to have to interrupt my learning and writing for the sake of helping someone in need, such as responding to a neighbor who comes to borrow some eggs. Next time there is a knock on the door at a very inconvenient time, I will remind myself, that Hashem is giving me an opportunity to do chesed in order to bring the Mashiach!

The Song of the Barren Woman
In addition to performing deeds of kindness, the Messianic era is characterized by emunah (faith) and happy song. “Sing, O barren one, you that did not bear, break forth into singing, and cry aloud, you that did not go into labor: for more are the children of the desolate than the children of the married wife, says Hashem” (Yesha’yahu 54:1). The prophet compares the desolate Yerushalayim and the congregation of Israel to a barren woman who didn’t give birth, yet Hashem promises that in the time of the Geulah (redemption) she will become more fruitful than the rest of the nations (Metzudat David ibid.).

The Blessing of the Barren
Sefat Emet asks why it states, “Sing O barren one?” What would be the reason for the barren woman, who is experiencing the pain of infertility, to sing? I remember that my first Rebbetzin, who herself gave birth to fourteen children, used to say, “It is a blessing to have, but it is also a blessing not to have.” While I watched my friends’ bellies growing full of life, giving birth to baby after baby, these words consoled me, and helped me not to get depressed. I cannot say I felt so blessed being barren that I burst out in song, yet I recognized “the blessing of not having,” which included a full night’s sleep, the ability to learn uninterrupted, and lots of creative energy to put into my home, garden, teaching and writing. If we have perfect emunah (faith) that Hashem is the source of only good, then we thank Hashem for whatever we have to go through, recognizing that even the worst situations must be blessings in disguise. Sefat Emet explains that sometimes it is a hidden blessing to be barren rather than to give birth to difficult children, who may not turn out the way we had hoped. In addition, we all come into this world to work on ourselves and reach perfection. Every stumbling block we encounter in this world helps us to grow, develop our full potential, and reach our spiritual goal. Often our tikun (rectification) is by means of the difficulties of being “desolate,” as it states, “In her desolation she established for me righteous people” (Midrash Shir haShirim 4:12). Therefore, sometimes the difficulties of being a single woman enact a greater rectification, than the blessed life of the married wife. This explains the meaning of, “More are the children [blessings] of the desolate than the children of the married wife” (ibid.).

Character Development through “Desolations” and Frustrations
I can’t begin to describe to you all the difficulties and stumbling blocks that I’ve experienced whenever I tried to do something worthwhile, such as making aliyah to Israel, raising a Torah family, founding and running a midrasha for women, and publishing my first book. The many difficulties and frustrations I have encountered, are so intense, that they could never have happened randomly. For example, one of the difficulties, I experienced in publishing my first book, was finalizing the cover. My graphic artist had to travel overseas for more than a month, just one day before she could complete the final correction on the cover. Subsequently, her flight back home was cancelled, and after finally returning, her internet was down. In running the midrasha, there are so many never-ending stumbling blocks such as, finding the right staff, securing the land and raising funds, to write them all would fill thousands of pages. Nevertheless, all these “desolations” and frustrations provide the greatest opportunities for character development. I recognize that each error and delay polishes another facet of the diamond of my psyche. I am learning, the hard way, how far-flung our lack of control extends. I recognize all the impediments as tests to strengthen my trust in Hashem, my patience, endurance, and persistence. Likewise, all the days of darkness and concealment during our long-winding exile are for our benefit, and help us to perfect ourselves. For this opportunity, the barren woman can be thankful and sing (Sefat Emet, Parashat Tetze, 5651).

The Gestation Period of Exile
In Kabbalistic writings, exile is often compared to pregnancy, and redemption to birth. During pregnancy, the fetus is not seen on the outside; yet, during this period all of its limbs are being formed within the womb of the mother. When the fetus has completed its development, then it emerges from the womb and becomes an independent human being. In the same way, the purpose of exile is to complete the building of our nation, so that we will become worthy of having the Divine presence rest on us. Just as the fetus could not be completed without its period of gestation within a narrow, dark space, likewise, the darkness of exile enables the completion of the development of Israel into a holy nation (Rav Yitzchak Chaver, Yad Mitzvayim). May the pregnancy of this final exile culminate in a speedy birth of a very healthy child – the perfected people of Israel!