Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Mirror Mirror on the... Kiyor

Blossoming Almond Flowers in Bat Ayin
We would like to welcome Rabbi Avraham Iskowitz to share some insights on this week’s parsha. He is a long standing teacher of Jewish Thought at Midreshet Bat Ayin. In addition to teaching, he is a Torah Scribe/Sofer and is currently working on the restoration of a very old European Sefer Torah.

Mirror Mirror on the... Kiyor
Parshat Vayakhel
By Avraham Iskowitz

Click here for a printable version

In this week’s Parasha we read about the nation's enthusiasm and participation in the building of the Mishkan; a physical place whence the spiritual becomes tangible. Every one had what to give in providing the raw materials that would become woven, crafted and molded as the people watched Hashem's Will materialize into the vessels He prescribed to represent and manifest His presence amongst us. Towards the end of the Parasha, we find a vessel that stands out from amongst the rest. A vessel that was made not of smolten metals, but of other, pre-existing vessels. Namely, the Copper Laver (Washbasin, sink, kiyor..) from which the Cohanim would wash their hands and feet in preparation for their daily service.

A few words about the Cohanim before we explore this interesting vessel...

Am Yisrael, as a whole, is the vessel through which Hashem makes Himself known in His world. In particular, this vessel is subdivided into: Mind, Heart and body. In our lives, these are experienced as thoughts, feelings and behaviors. These three elements are represented by the Cohanim, Leviim and Yisraelim as they serve to purify these aspects of human existence to the degree that will enable the Love and Illumination of Hashem to flow into the world unhindered.

Although the service of the Cohanim in the Mishkan is usually associated with the various actions they performed, in actuality, the most important element of their service was purity of thought, focus and intent. Their thought could actually interfere with, and even nullify the affects of the offerings they handled. If, for example, a person were to bring an offering to atone for unintentionally eating on Yom Kippur, and while tending to it the Cohen 'thought' it was atoning for unintentionally working on Yom Kippur, the owners would have to bring another offering and start over.

Now, what does all of this have to do with the Kiyor?

As was mentioned above, the Kiyor was utilized by the Kohanim as a preparation before they approached their service. Being that their service hinged upon their ability to direct their thoughts, there must be some element of the Kiyor that enhanced this skill...Which brings us back to the materials used to construct the Kiyor.

In chapter 38, verse 8, we read that the Kiyor was made out of the shiny, copper mirrors of the 'legions' of the women of Israel. Unaltered and non-smelted, they were all combined to create a giant basin of water.

Many reasons are mentioned by the midrashim and commentators as to why they were chosen for the construction of the Kiyor, but the most practical one was so that the Kohanim can check and make sure their clothing was without stain or dirt as they prepared for service.

But there is a deeper significance to looking at themselves before engaging as the messengers of the peoples' thoughts and yearnings to draw close to Hashem...

When someone brought a 'sin' offering to the mishkan, they would have to confess, in the presence of the Cohen, the nature of the sin they sought atonement for. It was then the Cohen's task to transform the act which distanced the sinner from his Creator into one that enabled his drawing close, in purity, to the sensitivity to and awareness of Hashem's presence in his life. This was accomplished through the thoughts of the Cohen and his ability to fend off distractions.

When we see or hear about someone 'sinning', we naturally feel pity, disdain or even disgust. To feel compassion, be moved to help, and to identify with the sinner do not come so easily. But these are the exact requirements underlying the job of the Cohen.

It is told of Reb Levi Yitzchak of Berditchov, that he once asked his shamash if he knew why people constantly came to HIM to ask HIM to pray for their health, barrenness, financial woes and other sorrows which plagued the community. He then went on to explain that it was because HE was the cause of their suffering. It was all HIS fault...

Being that he was the leader of his generation, the HEAD, then all that manifested around him emanated from him, just as all that manifests in one’s body is governed by and 'caused' by the mind. When someone approached a Cohen in the Mishkan with a sin offering, the Cohen had to realize that he was seeing his own reflection. The materialization of his own thoughtlessness. For, after all, sin offerings were usually brought for UNintentional sins. The thoughtless acts we fall prey to when we don't identify with, nor be in tune with, our surroundings. The correction for these acts is accomplished only if the Cohen acts with purpose and intent to uproot the cause of all negligence and insensitivity from the minds of Am Yisrael.

To remind the Cohanim of this, they purify their hands and feet while seeing how they reflect upon the world and how the world reflects them.

It is interesting to note that this teaching came from the women of the nation whom, we learn from Chava, have a natural ability to reflect most accurately the spiritual state of the men in their lives. And it is in the merit of these same women that we were redeemed from the grips of the Egyptians who represent the opposite of spiritual refinement. For redemption comes when we stop allowing for ourselves to be distracted from our task of self-refinement, which leads to our judging each other, and, instead, prepare ourselves to receive Hashem's Presence amongst us.

We are called A Kingdom of Cohanim, implying that our thoughts affect on a very personal level the lives of others. We don't exist as unrelated individuals cut off from those around us, but all we think, say, feel or do has an immediate consequence upon all of mankind. This is one reason why the Parasha begins with a word that calls for ALL the individuals to come together to realize they are all interwoven.

May we finally realize that we are all reflections of each other and be moved to embrace one another despite, and even BECAUSE of our shortcomings. We are here to strengthen and be strengthened by each other.

With hope and prayers for the complete redemption, have a wonderful Shabbath.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Purim and Unity

We have invited Rabbi Yosef Benarroch this week to share some thoughts with us. Rabbi Benarroch is the Rabbi of Midreshet Eshel in Jerusalem and lectures here at Berot Bat Ayin. Born in Tangiers, Morocco, he holds a degree in Education from the University of Manitoba, an M.S. in Jewish History from Tauro College and is a graduate of Mercaz Harav Yeshiva in Jerusalem. He was ordained as Rabbi by Machon Harry Fischel in Jerusalem. Rabbi Benarroch also served as the Rabbi for the Sephardic Community in Vancouver, Canada.
One Jewish Man-ish Yehudi
by Rabbi Yosef Benarroch

Click here for a printable version

With Purim quickly approaching I want to dedicate my dvar Torah to insights in Megilat Esther. One of the most shocking statements in the Megilah is the annihilation edict of Haman to King Ahashverosh. In asking the King to wipe out the entire Jewish nation Haman says the following, "And Haman said to the King Ahashverosh, there is a nation who is scattered and dispersed amongst the people in all your provinces. Their laws are different from the other people and they do not even observe the Kings laws, therefore it is not befitting for the King to tolerate them. If it pleases the King let it be recorded that they be destroyed.... And the King responded, the money is given to you do as you please to this nation...  And the letters (of the edict) were sent by the Kings messengers to destroy, to slay, and to exterminate all the Jews from young to old, woman and children, in one day on the thirteenth day of the twelfth month which is the month of Adar" (Book of Esther 3:8-13).

In these few verses we read about Haman’s desire to destroy our entire nation. A close examination of those verses reveals much more about Haman's plan. Not only did Haman want to destroy the entire Jewish nation, he wanted to do it in one day! Why was he so intent on carrying out his genocide in ONE DAY? The worst murderers and anti Semites throughout history took months and years to carry out their plans. Yet Haman was intent on finishing off the Jews in ONE DAY, why?

In addition, why when communicating his wishes to the King does he add, "there is a nation who is scattered and dispersed amongst the people in all your provinces”. Why was it important for Haman to add that the Jewish nation were scattered and dispersed? Shouldn't it have been enough to tell the King that they did not follow his laws? 

Before I answer these questions let me digress to how the Megilah introduces Mordechai. The text says the following, "A Jewish man (Ish Yehudi) lived in Shushan the capital. His name was Mordechai the son of Yair the son of Shimi, the son of Kish from the tribe of Benjamin" (Book of Esther 2:5). Many of the commentaries ask why Mordechai is introduced as a "Jewish Man". Nowhere in Tanach do we see such a title. Why wasn't he simply introduced as "A man named Mordechai the son of Yair from the tribe of Binyamin"?

It is the introduction of Mordechai that will shed light on all of our questions. The Rabbis in the Midrash explain why Mordechai is introduced as a "Jewish Man (Ish Yehudi)". They state the following, "Why was he called a Jew (Yehudi)? Because he made the name of
G-d one before the people of the world therefore he was called Yihudi (one)".
(Esther Rabah)

It may be a cute play on words between the word Yehudi (Jew) and Yihudi (one), but to our Rabbis the message of Mordechai’s name is a powerful one. He understood that the power of Jewish existence had to do with the number one and the unity it embodies. Morecai taught the world that there was one G-d and he taught the Jewish people that their salvation would be the result of their unity, their steadfast trust in one G-d and their ability to unite as one people. It is for this reason that when Esther acts, her first request is to "Go and gather all of Jewish people in the capital of Shushan and fast for me for three days... and Mordecai did everything as Esther requested (Book of Esther 4:17).

Perhaps we can better understand the words of Haman. He too understood that the power of the Jewish nation was in their unity. He understood that to destroy the Jewish nation he would need to destroy their unity. It is for this reason that he says to the King that they are scattered and dispersed. He was telling the King that they were not unified, not in their love for each other and not in their faith in G-d, and so victory could be achieved. It is also for this reason that Haman is so intent of annihilating the Jewish nation in ONE day.

The Sefat Emet explains that every Purim we must access the energy of unity that the holiday provides. He goes on to explain that all of the commandments of Purim reflect unity. When it comes to the reading of the Megilah the law stipulates that it should be done in public with as large a gathering as possible. So too we are required to send baskets of food to our friends and to give to the poor. These acts, explains the Sefat Emet, are in order to arouse within us the power of unity. We pray and read the Megilah together, we take care of the poor together, and we send gifts to one another.

Finally we are required to eat a festive meal together as the Book of Esther states, “And these days should be celebrated by every generation, and by every family, and by every province, and by every city, and these days of Purim should never cease amongst the Jews” (Book of Esther 9:28). Indeed the entire festival of Purim allows us to reach out in love and joy, as a united nation. Haman sought to destroy this and Mordechai knew how important it was to preserve.

Monday, February 7, 2011

The Power of Visualization

This Haftorah really speaks to me, reminding me to believe and visualize the goals of my journey in order to make it happen. You too can make all good things happen through your focused emunah in the things for which you hope. Let us together visualize the Final Temple and rebuild it with Emunah!

Haftorat Parashat Tetzaveh

The Connection between the Haftorah and the Torah Reading
In this week's haftorah, the prophet Yechezkiel describes a vision of the third Holy Temple and its altar. This parallels this week's Torah portion which inclues the dedication of the Tabernacle's altar. Yechezkiel's vision of the Final Third Temple took place shortly after the destruction of the First Temple, in the midst of the Babylonian exile. HaShem tells Yechezkiel that by describing the vision of the Beit Hamikdash to the Jewish people, they would hopefully become ashamed of the wrongdoings that caused the destruction of the Temple.

Being Ashamed of Transgression Merits the Revelation of the Final Temple
"You, Son of man, describe the House to the House of Israel, that they may be ashamed of their iniquities; let them measure its plan (Yechezkiel 43:10). This week's haftorah opens with a magnificent vision of the Third Beit Hamikdash, focussing on the altar from where we receive atonement. "If they are embarrassed of all that they have done, then show them the form of the Beit Hamikdash, its specific rooms, exits and entrances... and write this before them and they should retain its entire image and all its specifications and they will construct them." (Ibid 11). Radak explains that Hashem revealed to Israel in exile, that we have the opportunity to erect the third and final Beit Hamikdash, if we repent and contemplate our final redemption. Even during the darkness of exile, by feeling ashamed of our wrongdoing, we can merit to see a glimpse of Hashem's glorious Home in the perfected world.

The Vision of the Beit Hamikdash Engenders Repentance 
The verse in Hebrew literally writes, "If they are embarrassed of all that they have done the form of the Home at its fashion..." only at the end of the sentence does it mention "Let them know." This led me to think that the connection between our embarrassment of wrongdoing/repentance and receiving a vision of the Beit Hamikdash goes both ways. Not only is receiving the vision dependent on our teshuvah, our teshuvah is also dependent on receiving a vision of the Beit Hamikdash! Quantum physics verify that viewing an object has an effect on the behavior of the object.

In the Torah, we know that the two witnesses who witness the new moon determine the exact day of the beginning of the new month. Their seeing the moon affects and changes the reality of time. However, what we look at also has an effect on us. For this reason, for example, it is forbidden to stare at the face of a wicked person (Magen Avraham, Ohr Hachaim 225, 20). Chassidut emphasizes that what we look at has an affect on the person who looks. Therefore, looking at a vision of the perfected abode for Hashem's Divine Presence can have a tremendous positive effect on us, to align us with the Divine will. Perhaps this is why the entire continuation of the haftorah and the last many sections of the Book of Shemot, describe the Mishkan (Tabernacle) and the Temple in such vivid details, so that we should visualize the holy Temple and repent.

As part of the messianic era that we live in, we are fortunate to have many great opportunities to visualize the final Temple. Machon Beit Hamikdash in the Old City has reconstructed most of the vessels, including the magnificent Golden Menorah. We have the model of the Beit Hamikdash in the Bayit Va'Gan and various virtual Beit Hamikdash's, as well as an assortment of "build the Holy Temple" model kits. The one you see in the photo with me is a kit created by my neighbour Mordecai Kohen in Bat Ayin. It look my son, then age eleven, a whole summer vacation to build it.

Experiencing Hashem’s Boundless Love and Comfort During the Darkness of Exile
The revelation of the Temple is an unbelievable comfort during exile. When we feel lost in exile and view ourselves as rejected by Hashem, He reveals us His boundless love by showing us a glimpse of eternity, and reminds us not to despair, but rather focus on the holy. Hashem invites us to rise above our personal difficulties, through steadfast emunah in the forthcoming redemption. Our sincere faith in the rebuilding of the Temple gives us the opportunity to be part of eternity. Even at the time of the destruction of the Temple, the golden Keruvim (Cherubs) on top of the lid of the Holy Ark were embracing one another, signifying Hashem’s endless love for Israel and His desire to return His Presence to our midst. As a little girl in Denmark, I remember always turning to an Invisible Comforter when lying in my bed, crying to Him and feeling His comfort and love.

Visualize the Miniature Temple of Women’s Holistic Torah Learning on the Land!
The power of visualization is incredible. Imagining the great things we hope for in our life and really believing that they will happen cause them to materialize. Here at Midreshet B’erot Bat Ayin we are working on building our miniature Temple, our holy permanent building which will house, Torah learning for Women in the Judean Hills of Israel. It will have two classrooms and a large Beit Midrash with our Torah library. If Holistic Torah learning for Women in the Land is important to you, please take a look at the floor-plan of our first building. Try to visualize and believe that it will be built very soon. Send your personal prayers for the success of my North America Tour, to bring home the additional funds needed to make this building a reality this year! We at Midreshet B’erot Bat Ayin have steadfast emunah that our first building will begin very soon.

Visualizing the Temple will Help us Merit its Rebuilding

Rabbi David Siegel based on Radak writes beautifully about the connection between visualizing the Temple and meriting it. Yechezkiel told Israel to focus on every detail of the future Beit Hamikdash and commit it to memory. Radak explains that Hashem gave the Jewish people, then in exile, the opportunity of constructing the third Beit Hamikdash through their emunah. He quotes the famous principle of Chazal, “Whoever believes in the advent of Mashiach will merit the redemption.” If we believe in the building of the Temple, concentrate on the details of its construction, and aspire to be present during the time of the final Beit Hamikdash, we will, G-d willing, merit it!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Adar: The Month of Transformation

Each year I tour North America during the Month of Adar, because this month is most favorable for success. Thanks to Hashem and all our great friends and supporters, I have returned home to Midreshet B’erot Bat Ayin with almost enough blessings to keep us sustained for the entire year. I undertake my annual journey with emunah that Hashem will smile at B’erot, as I share my Torah and myself with all of you who will meet me or hear me speak. 
Chodesh Tov & Shabbat Shalom
Chana Bracha

Adar: The Month of Transformation

Mazal (Constellation): Fish דגים
Element: Water מים
Letter: Kuf ק
Sense: Laughter צחוק
Organ: Spleen תחול

Adar is the month of good fortune. “Just like when Av enters we decrease in happiness, likewise when Adar enters we increase in joy” (Babylonian Talmud, Ta’anit 29a).  On Adar the Mazal (fortune) is strong to give them hope for a good end (Ibid.). Adar is known to be the month of success and victory. During Adar spring is in the air, battling the remnant of the long dark winter month of Tevet and Shevat. The name Adar is connected to the Hebrew word Adir (Tehillim 8:2) meaning empowerment and strength (Machshevet Charotz, Chapter 4).
The word Adar can be broken into A/Dar -the Hebrew letter “alef” representing the oneness of G-d dwells (in Hebrew “dar”). G-d created the world “to make for Himself a dwelling place (dira) in the lower worlds. Adar represents the lowest of the worlds, but it is specifically here where G-d, the alef, longs to reveal His presence and to dwell. Since Nissan, the month of Passover, is considered the first of the Jewish months (Shemot 12:2), Adar, being the culmination of the Jewish year, gives us the opportunity to tie all the loose, hanging ends, and turn all possibilities of frustration and depression into joy. The phrase “Completely turn around” (Megillat Esther 9:1), is the main key to connect with the energy of Adar, where we have the opportunity to transform our very lowest shadowy sides.

Mazal (Constellation): Fish דגים
Just as the fish are covered by water and the evil eye cannot rule over them, similarly we are protected from the enemy (Rashi, Bereishit 48:16).
Pisces is opportune for both physical and spiritual blessing; one fish represents physical wholeness, the other fish represents the eternal soul. The Divine soul grows and develops through the twelve constellations of the zodiac; we reach our ultimate perfection in the last constellation of Pisces. “…They nurture him with pure water from Aquarius (in Hebrew water-container) and he grows with great joy like a fish which enjoys being in the water…He perpetually eats from the Tree of Life which is planted in the section of the righteous… and he lives forever”(Midrash Tanchuma, Ha’azinu 1).
Just as fish live in the hidden world of the sea, the Divine souls swim in the waters of Torah; our true identity being invisible in this world. Fish- in Hebrew “dag” represents the “tikkun” (rectification) of da’ag –“to worry.” The strong (though initially hidden) mazal (fortune) of Adar, converts all our worries to ultimate joy of redemption and rebirth.
The two fish of Pisces represent Yosef’s two sons who were blessed by Ya’avov “To increase fishlike within the land” (Beresishit 48:16). One of the definitions of Purim, the Jewish holiday celebrated in Adar, comes from the word pru – “Be fruitful and multiply.” Therefore, this is the month most suited for pregnancy and birth (Resisei Layla, 58).
Pisces is a water sign. For the sake of the purity and repentance associated with water, the Jews were saved at the time of Purim. Just as fish cannot live without water, so the world cannot exist without Torah. The Torah is compared to water, because you need to be humble to absorb it. Water always flows downward, seeking the lowest level. Moshe, the giver of the Torah, was the most humble of all men (Bemidbar12:3). He is closely linked to water and his name means, “From the water I have drawn him.” (Shemot 2:10). Moshe was born and died on the 7th of Adar!
The two fishes represent the Written and the Oral Torah, given during the constellation of the twins of Gemini. Since the spiritual power of the Jews climaxes in Adar, the process of the giving of the Torah was actually not completed until Purim. Only then did the Jewish people accept the authority of the Sages and their Oral Torah willingly (Babylonian Talmud, Shavuot 39a), when the sage Mordechai with the help of Queen Esther brought about the salvation of the Jewish people.
For the Jews there was light and happiness” – Light refers to the Oral Torah (Babylonian Talmud, Megillah 16b). According to Kabbalah the Oral Torah is considered female because it receives from the written Torah. The power of the female is to build, complete, and create wholeness, as the woman takes a tiny seed and builds it into a complete being within her.
The Piscean personality is very flexible and can easily adapt to change. Since Pisces is the last of the Jewish Zodiac and represents the highest stage of development, the Piscean personality is able to associate with various types of people, and has the power to bring about self transformation.

Sense: Laughter צחוק 
“Glory and Majesty is her clothing and she laughs to the very last day” (Mishlei 31:25). Adar is bubbling over with laughter, as the last month of the year, and the feeling of having reached completeness causes joy. Laughter is the expression of unbounded happiness, resulting from witnessing the light of the Purim miracle emerge from darkness – “The advantage of light from darkness” (Kohelet 2:13). Laughter, Joy, Happiness breaks all borders; this month is the time to take advantage of this window of opportunity and increase in joy and happiness.

Organ: Spleen תחול
“The spleen laughs” (Babylonian Talmud, Berachot 51b). At first sight, this appears most paradoxical, for the spleen is considered the seat of the black humor, the source of depression and despair. Yet, all of the phenomena of Adar and Purim are essentially paradoxical, and represent states of existential metamorphosis. The spleen is connected to the immune system. Its purpose is to fight against infection of evil invaders. Laughter is an expression of overcoming evil. Strengthening our will power gives us the ability to overcome evil, and achieving completeness. Reaching this peak of wholeness through our own efforts is what engenders the greatest possible happiness (Rav Yitzchak Ginsburgh). “Then our mouths will be filled with laughter” (Tehillim 126:2), the ultimate expression of happiness without bounds.

Letter: Kuf  ק
The shape of this month’s letter kuf is like a heh the letter of the month of Nissan, which is the month of revealed miracles, yet the foot of the kuf extends downwards below the line. This indicates the ability of this month to complete G-d’s creation and extend its power by means of human effort into the lower world. The foot of the kuf descending below the line symbolizes

G-d’s dwelling place below, brought about by our descent to transform all depression and sadness to pure delight. The letter kuf begins both the words kedusha, (holiness), and klipah, (shell). The spiritual work during Adar is the ongoing work of extracting sparks of holiness from their impure shells and transforming them into holiness. Therefore, the month of Adar receives the power to conquer and elevate our base desires.

The month of Adar marks the end of the six winter months, and corresponds to Elul, the sixth of summer months. This is mirrored in the letters that form the nature of these signs; Adar was formed by the kuf, whose numerical value is 100, while Elul was formed by the yud whose numerical value is 10. Each represents completeness in their domain.

The letter kuf also means “monkey” (kof). In accordance with the idiom “as a monkey in the face of man,” the kuf symbolizes the custom of masquerading on Purim. Before the miracle of Purim, G-d Himself “hid His face” and His name is not mentioned even once in the book of Esther. By initially hiding our identity, pretending to be someone else, our innermost essence becomes revealed. This also explains the concept of modesty by concealing our body we reveal our soul.

Before eating from the Tree of Knowledge our bodies were so refined and transparent that they reflected the light of our souls. Afterwards the body became a mask for the soul, concealing our true inner being. The purpose of garments is to conceal the mask of our body and through the choice of texture, style and color, express our inner essence and bring forth hidden sparks of our soul.

The Weekly Torah Portions of the Month
During Adar we complete the book of redemption, Shemot, (Exodus) by reading the Torah portions of Truma, Tetzave, Kitisa and Vayakhel & Pekudei. These Torah portions mainly describe the completion of the mishkan (tabernacle) which is the underlying theme of the holiday of Purim. The evil Queen Vashti refused to allow that King Achasverus give permission to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem. The true victory of Purim took place when Darius, the son of Queen Esther began to rebuild the holy Temple. During a regular non-leap year, we read the Torah portion Tetzave about the clothing of the Cohen Gadol, (High Priest) the Shabbat prior to the holiday of Purim. The purpose of these exquisite garments was to cover the mask of our body and return the original light of Adam the first man.