Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Birkat HaIlanot

The Flowering Fruit Tree – A Sign of Redemption
The month of Nissan carries the promise that redemption is on its way. Rosh Chodesh Nissan marks the beginning of the season for Birkat ha-Ilanot – the blessing we recite upon seeing fruit trees in bloom. The name Nissan is related to the Hebrew word Nitzan (bud), since this is the month in which everything buds. We have the opportunity to recite this blessing, which praises Hashem's ongoing renewal of creation, only once a year, during the month of Nissan, (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 226:1). Women too have the special Mitzvah to say a bracha (blessing) on a flowering fruit tree, since it is not considered a "time-related mitzvah" from which women are exempt (Har Tzvi O.C. 118). We praise G‑d for the flowers that herald the promise of the fruits sanctified as bikurim (the first fruit sacrifice) on Shavuot. Just as the redemption from Egypt leads to the giving of the Torah, the flowering tree testifies that the fruits are yet to come.

The Words of the Blessing for the Flowering Fruit Tree
The different blessings that we say when we witness various phenomena of creation help us to draw closer to Hashem by deepening our appreciation for the wonders of His creation. Upon seeing the blossoms of fruit trees in the month of Nissan – the first month of spring – we recite the following annual blessing of thanksgiving to Hashem: 
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה' אֱלקֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם שֶׁלֹּא חִסַּר בְּעוֹלָמוֹ כלום (דָבָר), וּבָרָא בוֹ בְּרִיוֹת טוֹבוֹת וְאִילָנוֹת טוֹבִים לְהַנּוֹת בָּהֶם בְּנֵי אָדָם: (סדור תפלה - נוסח ספרד - סדר תפילת הדרך)
Baruch ata Hashem Elokeinu melech haolam shelo chisar baolamo klum, uvara vo beriyot tovot v'ilanot tovim lehanot bahem benei adam 
Blessed are You, Hashem, our God, Sovereign of the universe, Whose world lacks nothing, and Who created within it good creatures and good trees to bring pleasure to human beings.

A Tikun (Rectification) for Reincarnated Souls
According to kabbalah, the blessing on the flowering fruit trees has special significance. It is important to be very careful to have a strong kavanah (intention) when reciting the blessing as it is a tikun for the souls that are reincarnated in the trees and herbs at this time, bear in mind to request mercy for them. About he who is careful to recite this blessing it states," See, the smell of my son is like the smell of a field which Hashem has blessed: Therefore may Hashem give you of the dew of heaven and the fatness of the earth, and plenty of grain and wine" (Bereishit 27:27). Before reciting the blessing it is good to recite Vayehi Noam – Tehillim 90, followed by Tehillim 148. It is good to say this blessing in a group, and afterwards collect tzedakka (donations to a worthy cause) from everyone. A minimum of 3 perutot (the smallest amount of currency – such as a penny or a 5 agurot coin) is recommended corresponding to the three levels of the soul, (nefesh, ruach, neshama). If ten men are present they may recite kaddish at the end of the tree-blessing ceremony, as this is a great tikun for the souls who are reincarnated in the rocks, plants, trees, birds and other living beings (Kaf HaChaim, O"C 226:6-7).

When is the Optimal Time to Recite Birkat Ha-Ilanot?
The preferred time to recite this blessing is immediately when we first see a fruit tree blossom during the month of Nissan. It is recommended to make a special effort to look for flowering fruit trees to recite the blessing on Rosh Chodesh Nissan, unless it falls on Shabbat or it is raining. It is the minhag (custom) especially among Sephardim to visit the country on Rosh Chodesh Nissan in order to recite this blessing. Although the fruit trees in our garden began to flower more than a month ago, Rav Daniel of Bat Ayin holds that we still need to wait until the month of Nissan – the month of our redemption – to recite this special blessing. During the month of Adar we watch the blooming trees and look forward to Nissan when we finally can praise Hashem for these flowers that reflect our own yearning for redemption, which flowers during the month of Nissan.

When May We Still Recite this Blessing?
If you don't live in an area with fruit trees, and only saw the flowers on the tree after the month of Nissan had passed, you may still recite the blessing the first time you see the tree, as long as the fruit of the tree has not yet ripened. Once the fruit has ripened, it is too late to recite this blessing (Mishnah Berurah 226:4). If you saw the trees in bloom during Nissan, but forgot to recite the blessing, you may still say the blessing later, but only until the time that the fruit of the tree has begun to grow (Ibid.5). It is important, however, to be careful with reciting the blessing at our first opportunity, since several poskim (halachic authorities) maintain that the blessing may not be recited if we failed to say it the first time. For this reason it is important to know the text of the blessing by heart so that we can say the blessing as soon as we see the blossoms. There is a difference of opinion whether we can say the blessing on Shabbat and holidays. According to Kabbalah, this blessing may not be said on Shabbat and Yom Tov. In addition, the blessing may lead to shaking or breaking a branch off the tree (Kaf HaChaim 226:4).

Which Trees Require the Blessing Birkat HaIlanot?
We do not recite the blessing on trees that are orlah. (A tree is considered orlah for the first three years after it is planted). The poskim debate whether one is allowed to say the blessing on a tree which has been grafted from two species, since the halacha does not permit such grafting. It is therefore preferable not to make the blessing on such a tree. According to some Rabbis, we are required to say the blessing near more than one flowering fruit tree (Chida Moreh b'Etzba 198, Chazon  Ovadiyah, p. 9-10) It is a hidur mitzvah (beatification of the mitzvah) to recite the blessing on as many trees as possible. The more trees the better (Teshuvot Halachot Ketanot 2:28).Indeed, it is preferred to recite the blessing on trees in an orchard that is planted outside the city limits (Teshuvot Lev Chayim 45 quoted in Kaf  HaChaim 226:3 and in Chazon Ovadiyah, p. 8). In the city you will sometimes find a single fruit tree, but never an orchard. In this way the mitzvah of reciting the blessing on the flowering fruit tree insures that people from the city come out to the country during Nissan, in order to experience the processes of renewal of nature that is reflected in our own souls during the month of our redemption. Being in touch with nature especially during the month of Nissan thus helps prepare us for our ultimate renewal and freedom during Pesach.

Haftorat HaChodesh

I thought I’ll never find anything interesting to share from this week’s haftorah since it is mainly about the sacrifices, a topic I have not yet learned to appreciate. I thank Hashem for allowing me to notice a verse full of hidden mystical meanings, which holds the key to accessing the Garden of Eden even while living in this physical World.
Shabbat Shalom!

Haftorat HaChodesh
Yechezkiel 45:16-46:18
The Connection between the Parasha and the Haftorah
The Shabbat prior to Rosh Chodesh Nissan, in addition to the regular weekly Torah portion, we read Parashat HaChodesh – the special Torah reading about the mitzvah to sanctify the new moon, and count the month of Nissan as the first of the months (Shemot 12:1-20). The haftorah includes a prophetic verse regarding Shabbat and Rosh Chodesh, reflecting the theme of Parashat HaChodesh: receiving the first mitzvah for the Jewish People – to sanctify Rosh Chodesh. Much of the haftorah is devoted to describing the various sacrifices during Pesach and other holidays. However, the haftorah also portrays the entry and exit from the Temple.

The Inner Gate that Opens only on Shabbat and Rosh Chodesh
When I glanced through this week’s special haftorah which is all about the sacrifices, one particular verse sparked my interest. As I looked for hidden meanings, Hashem sent me a fascinating kabbalistic commentary which I will share with you here almost word for word. “Thus said Hashem, G-d: “The gate of the inner court that looks toward the east shall be shut the six working days; but on the Shabbat it shall be opened, and on the day of the new moon it shall be opened” (Yechezkiel 46:1 ). I was intrigued about the gate of this “inner court that looks towards the east” and I asked myself “Which kind of inner secrets are only revealed on Shabbat and Rosh Chodesh?” The commentary of the Holy Rabbi Yesha’ya Horowitz (the Shelah HaKodesh) then caught my eye. He asked why the inner holiness is only revealed on Rosh Chodesh and Shabbat but not during the holidays. He explained that on Shabbat and Rosh Chodesh all the souls leave gehinum (purgatory). This is not the case on the holidays.

Israel’s Engagement to Hashem through the Mitzvah to Sanctify the New Moon
During the Exodus from Egypt, the relationship between Israel and Hashem was compared to that of a kallah (bride) and a chatan (bride-groom), as we read on Pesach in Song of Songs. While still in Egypt, with the giving of the first mitzvah to sanctify the new month, Hashem chose us among all the nations and brought us close to Him as a chatan chooses his kallah. Several weeks later on Shabbat (Babylonian Talmud, Pesachim 68b), He consummated the marriage by giving us His Torah. Since a marriage is can only be valid through direct contact between the bride and groom, the giving of the Torah was “face to face”. It, moreover, took place on Shabbat, the time for marital intimacy. 

Receiving the Moon as an Engagement Gift
The engagement between the Jewish people and Hashem emphasizes the power of the Jewish people, whereas Hashem has “the upper hand during” the marriage. Therefore, regarding the mitzvah to sanctify the new moon, it states, “This month is yours.” The Sanhedrin is in charge of deciding which day is Rosh Chodesh. This determines whether the moon will be full (30 days) or deficient (29 days). The holiness of Shabbat teaches us about the Hashem’s existence and power as it states “Shabbat to Hashem” (Shemot 16:25). Therefore, the holiness of Shabbat is eternal. The midrash brings the following parable: “This month is for you” This is compared to a king who became engaged to a woman and gave her some small gifts. When he came to take her as a wife, he showered her with much greater gifts. Similarly, when Hashem engaged the Jewish people in this world He only gave Israel the moon. However, in the messianic era, we will become married to Hashem. At that time He will give Israel endless light (Shemot Rabah 15:31).

Consummating the Wedding to Hashem in the World to Come
When Israel became engaged through the mitzvah of sanctifying the moon, we received the gift of the moon. The moon symbolizes everything we go through in this world, both our “ups” compared to the full moon, and our “downs” corresponding to the diminished moon. The Torah is compared to an everlasting marriage contract between Israel and Hashem. It is impossible to fully grasp the deepest meaning of the Torah within the physical world. So, too, the holy wedding between Israel and Hashem is beyond this world, and only fully consummated in the World to Come.  

The Dark Side of the Moon Corresponds to Our Suffering
The Jewish calendar goes according to the moon because just as the moon is at times full and at other times deficient, so does Israel bless Hashem for both the good and the bad (Babylonian Talmud, Berachot 48b). One of our hardest challenges is to accept suffering with love. This ability distinguishes Israel from the other nations, as it states in the midrash, “This month is for you” – “Only you count according to the moon, not so the other nations”. Since they lack this capacity to bless Hashem for their suffering, therefore the Gregorian calendar goes according to the sun, which is always full.

The Fire of the Sun for the Nations versus the Light of the Moon for Israel
The nations of the world calculate time according to the sun, which is a burning fire, whereas Israel counts according to the moon, which is compared to light. In the future, Hashem will remove the sun from its sheath and punish the nations through its fire, as it states “For behold, that day is coming, it burns like a furnace…it shall burn them up…” (Malachi 3:19). However, just as the moon consists of light, so will Israel inherit eternal light, as it states, “Light is sown to the righteous…” (Tehillim 97:11)…. (Based on The Shelah HaKodesh, Sefer Shemot, Parashat HaChodesh).

Entering the Garden of Eden through the Gates of Shabbat and Rosh Chodesh
I believe that “the gate of the inner court that looks toward the east…” alludes to the gate of the Garden of Eden that Hashem planted eastward (Bereishit 2:9). Likewise, the continuation of the verse, “…shall be shut the six working days…” (Yechezkiel 46:1), is parallel the verse that describes sending Adam out of the Garden: “G-d sent him out of the Garden of Eden to work the ground…” (Bereishit 3:23). According to Kabbalah, both the Temple and marital relations correspond to the Garden of Eden (Kehallat Ya’acov 15). When Hashem expelled humanity from the Garden, and “placed the keruvim (cherubs) to the east of the Garden of Eden, with the bright blade of a revolving sword to guard the way to the Tree of Life” (Ibid. 3:24), he shut the gates to the Garden of Eden. Yet, he allowed these gates to be opened on Shabbat and Rosh Chodesh, as we learn from our haftorah: “…but on the Shabbat it shall be opened, and on the day of the new moon it shall be opened.” With these prophetic words, Hashem gives us the key to re-accessing our lost Paradise. This also explains why all souls leave gihennum particularly on Shabbat and Rosh Chodesh.

Accessing the Moon’s Key to our Lost Paradise
Reconnecting with Hashem in the ultimate closest way is the embodiment of the Garden of Eden. Rejoicing in Hashem on Shabbat, which is compared to the World to Come, as well as through Torah learning, which was given on Shabbat, is one of the special ways to re-enter the gates of Paradise. We also have the opportunity to access the Garden by connecting with the waxing and waning message of the moon, through experiencing the unity with Hashem not only during our “ups”, but also during the “downs” of our lives. The holiness of being engaged to Hashem by accepting suffering with love, even within these difficult times that we endure here in Israel, is an important key to unlock the Garden.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Haftorat Parashat Parah

Yechezkiel 36:16-36
Printable Version
I wish you could have celebrated Purim with us. We had the most awesome Purim at Midreshet B’erot Bat Ayin. The Students’ fabulous Purim Shpiel set the tone for both the intellectual and emotional depth of Purim. We continued to cry and laugh throughout the following festive meal, interspersing singing and dancing with prayerful meditation. This week’s haftorah includes many of my favorite verses that reminds of my own personal teshuvah process. Please read on, as I nostalgically look back to share some glimpses of my past which tie into our beautiful purifying haftorah.

The Connection between the Haftorah and Parashat Parah
This week’s special haftorah describes the “purifying waters” that Hashem will sprinkle upon us at the time of the Geulah (Redemption). This purification of the Jewish people ties in with the theme of this week’s additional Torah reading – the purifying qualities of  the Parah Adumah – the “Red Heifer.” Yechezkiel, himself, compares this spiritual cleansing to purification from ritual impurity.

Prophesying the Return of Israel to their Homeland while in the State of Impurity
The concept of redemption and returning to the Land of Israel precedes repentance and purification in several verses in the Tana”ch (Bible). In his discussion about the fifth of Iyar (Yom Ha’atzmaut/Israel’s Independence Day), Rabbi Eliyahu Kitov learns from Yechezkiel that Hashem will gather the dispersed exiles of Israel and return them to the Land of Israel prior to cleansing and purifying them spiritually. “For I will take you from among the nations, and gather you out of all the countries, and will bring you into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean; from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you (Yechezkiel 36:24-25).

Returning to Israel before Mashiach Comes
These verses are clearly a proof that we are not supposed to wait for Mashiach before making aliyah (immigrate) to Eretz Yisrael. Although we don’t yet have a Torah government in charge of running our homeland, and unfortunately, our leadership is far from ideal, this is not a reason to shy away from returning to the Holy Land. I once heard Rabbi Aviner on the radio explain that just as when a baby is born, we need to take care of his physical needs, and only afterwards, when he turns three, do we start to formally teach him Torah; likewise the physical infrastructure of the Land of Israel must precede its spiritual content. In this week’s haftorah, the prophet predicts that the process of redemption will unfold in stages. Rather than being the culmination of redemption, the return of the Jewish people to our homeland can be compared to the birth of the baby – one of the early stages of redemption. Only afterwards will all of Israel learn Torah, become cleansed from our assimilation and from the residue of the secular or idol-worshipping cultures where some of us grew up.

The Purity of the Land of Israel brings us to Teshuvah (Repentance)
It is known that “the Land of Israel makes wise” (Baba Batra 158b). Many young people from every corner of the earth are inspired to adapt the Torah lifestyle only by coming to Israel. Since a young teenager, I had been searching for truth and meaning in life for many years. Only in the Land of Israel did I find what I was looking for. When as a nineteen year old “flower power” girl, I met Rabbi Weber at the Kotel (Wall), something moved in my neshamah (soul). The following Shabbat, lighting my first Shabbat candles at the girls’ dorm of Diaspora Yeshiva overlooking the Kotel, I returned to the Torah of my ancestors. It was as if Hashem had begun to cleanse me from all the impure values of the Western Society with which I was raised. Here, on Mount Zion young hippies became transformed to Yeshiva students. Instead of being on fire with the “Grateful Dead”, we became on fire with the “Tree of Life” – the Holy Torah. There is no way I would have been able to do teshuvah in Denmark, although my father tried to convince me to return and study Torah in Copenhagen, which has one of the largest Judaic Libraries (so he said). It was the air of Eretz Yisrael, and the closeness to Hashem that one can feel here, which enabled me to embrace the Torah lifestyle. It didn’t matter that the government was secular; the purity of the Land itself inspires and transforms the many Diaspora Jews who return home. With Hashem’s help we will all be purified completely. Very soon everyone in the Holy Land will be cleansed as Hashem “will sprinkle clean water upon” us, speedily in our days!

Receiving a New Heart of Flesh
“A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you; and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh”(Yechezkiel 36:26). After all of Israel will become spiritually purified, the next stage of the redemption process is receiving a new heart from Hashem. Removing our heart of stone implies that Hashem will remove our yetzer hara (negative impulse), and we will no longer get jealous or lust after things that are not good for us. With our new heart, we will desire to keep all the mitzvoth one hundred percent with our entire being. We will no longer have issues and personal struggles. Our will will totally become Hashem’s will. We will become an extension of Hashem, like a train-car attached to its engine.

Pesach: the Pre-redemptive Model of Redemption
Parashat Parah with its purifying haftorah is very appropriate for the Shabbat following Purim when we begin to prepare for Pesach as it states, “We begin to ask about the laws of Pesach thirty days before Pesach” (Shulchan Aruch, Hilchot Pesach 1). As we clean and scrub the walls of our homes, Hashem polishes the walls of our hearts. Pesach is a pre-redemptive model of the redemption process. Each stage of the redemption is exemplified in preparing for and celebrating Pesach. Removing chametz (leavened) from our homes, parallels removing the yetzer hara – the “heart of stone” from within.

Building a Sancturay in My Heart
Today, we have begun this process of removing our “heart of stone” which causes the blockages that blocks us from feeling Hashem’s presence. An increasing number of Torah Jews are learning the famous book “Bilvavi” (In my heart) by Rabbi Itamar Shwartz. His main message is that it is not enough to know about Hashem intellectually. We need to feel Hashem’s holiness and rejoice in His presence, the same way that we would rejoice if we won a million dollars in the lottery, as it states “Taste and see how Hashem is good…” (Tehillim 34:9). Hashem desires that we partner with Him in the redemption process. In order to receive the spiritual renewal promised in our haftorah, we need to do our histadlut (effort) by settling in the Land of Israel, and working on bringing the awareness of Hashem into our hearts. “In my heart I will build a Mishkan (sanctuary)!” In the merit of building a dwelling place for Hashem in our hearts, may we also become partners with Hashem in building the Holy Temple!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Preparing for Purim: Haftorat Parashat Zachor

Haftorat Parashat Zachor, (Parashat Tzav)
I Shemuel 15:2-34
Printable Version
This week's Haftorah teaches us about the importance of eradicating the Amalekian people who attack the weak and feeble among us. Likewise, the story of Purim teaches us that sometimes it is necessary to kill in order to defend our lives against our enemies who threaten to annihilate us. 

When will our government learn to protect and defend its citizens adequately? When will they learn that every building freeze only empowers the enemy to terrorize us? The proper response is to continue to build in Yehuda, Shomron and all the disputed areas. Supporting the building of a home for women's Torah learning on the Land of the Judean Hills is an important way to strengthen our Jewish presence in the Land and prevent further terrorism. If you would like to donate, please click here Purim Sameach!!!

The Haftorah's Connection to the Parashah
This week's special haftorah is connected with Parashat Zachor which we read the Shabbat before Purim to remember that Hashem commands us to annihilate the entire people of Amalek, because their raison d'etré is to destroy the Jewish people spiritually by separating them from Hashem and physically through brutal murder. In Parashat Zachor, we read about Amalek's unprovoked attack of innocent Israelites, which warrants Hashem's command to utterly destroy this evil people. The haftorah is about Hashem's mitzvah to King Shaul to completely destroy the people of Amalek: "Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass" (1 Shemuel 15:3). Although King Shaul heeds Hashem's command partially and wages war against Amalek, he spares King Agag and the best of the cattle and sheep. Shaul's negligence to utterly destroy the Amalekian people with all their belongings, costs him his crown. Hashem regrets having made Shaul king, "For he has turned back from following Me, and he has not fulfilled My words" (Ibid 11).

Being Compassionate to the Cruel
King Shaul found it difficult to accept Hashem's command to eradicate an entire nation. He compassionately questioned, "If Amalekite men are sinful why must the children perish and their cattle die?" (Mesichta Yoma 22b) We can recognize King Shauls voice today. Even if it seems like a noble sentiment to spare the enemy and give them a chance to shape up, Shaul's mercy reflected his lack of emunah in Hashem's decision. His desire to be "kinder than Hashem" together with the Jewish people's weakness, allowed for the survival of our arch enemy, Amalek, and a near holocaust by his descendant, Haman. Rabbi Elazar said, "He who becomes compassionate to the cruel will ultimately become cruel to the compassionate". As it states, "But Shaul and the people had mercy on Agag, and the best of the sheep, and of the oxen, even the young of the second birth, and the lambs, and all that was good, and would not utterly destroy them…" (1 Shemuel 15:9). Later it mentions that Shaul mercilessly killed eighty-five innocent Kohanim in Nov (Ibid. 22:18), (Midrash Tanchuma, Metzora, Chapter 1). Today, our leaders try to speak kind words of peace to our enemy, while cruelly disenfranchise our own people and ostracizing those Jews who protect the entire Nation of Israel by living on the front line, endangering their own lives.

Defending the Lives of Our People
I'm not involved in politics, but when it comes to defending the lives of our people this is Torah rather than politics. Waging war in order to save Jewish lives from terrorism is a milchemet mitzvah (A mitzvah war, commanded by Hashem), just as is waging war against Amalek (Rambam, Laws of Kings, Chapter 5:1). In the Megillah, Esther received permission from the king for the Jews to defend themselves against their anti-Semitic enemies. Today, unfortunately, in our own Jewish country, we don't have permission to properly defend our lives, against the terrorists. Israel has released terrorist murderers, giving them another chance to cruelly murder our people, including innocent women and children. Among them was the release of Sami Kuntar, the baby-killer of Hezbollah who said "I can't wait to kill again!" In contrast, our own prisons include convicts who have no other guilt than defending themselves against terrorist invaders. If an Arab is found sneaking into a Yishuv with a knife, clearly it is a mitzvah to kill him before he gets a chance to use it, as it states: "If someone comes to kill you, rise up early to kill him first" (Babylonian Talmud, Berachot 58:1).

Why does the Megillah Mention the Number of People the Jews Killed?
There is a lot of emphasis on the killing of the enemy in Megillat Esther. It is hard for our "make love not war" generation to read about all the thousands of people that the Jews killed. Altogether they killed 75,810 people as written in Chapter Nine, Verse 12-16. I believe that the reason for this emphasis in the Megillah is to set a precedent to teach us pacifistic Jews that there is a time to defend ourselves even if this means we will have to kill to save lives. We have to learn that there exist people so evil in this world that the only way to ensure world peace is to wage war against them. The perpetual anti-Semites are the embodiment of evil which must be eradicated in order to restore everlasting peace and harmony to the world. Perhaps the emphasis on killing our enemies was supposed to give us strength to fight back against the Nazis. Had we learned the lesson of the Megillah and defended ourselves as encouraged by the Megillah, the Holocaust could have been prevented. Moreover, if in our post holocaust generation we learn this lesson today, with Hashem's help, not one more cruel terrorist attack will assault our holy people!

Who is Amalek Today?
"Hashem will have war with Amalek from generation to generation" (Shemot 17:16). The fact that we have a mitzvah to destroy Amalek, and that this mitzvah is one of Mashiach's responsibilities to carry out, proves that Amalek still exists today. But – where is he today? "I once heard the answer from my father and master, of blessed memory, namely that any nation that conspires to destroy Knesset Israel becomes, according to the halacha, Amalek" (Rav Joseph Dov Soloveitchik, Kol Dodi Dofek", in: Divrei Hagut Ve'Ha'aracha, Jerusalem 1983, pp.49-50).

Throughout history, the Amalekites have been hunting for our weak points and attacking Israel from behind. Today, our weak points are our lack of self-respect as a nation, and the Jewish guilt which makes us feel unworthy to deserve living uprightly and safely in our land. Concessions to international pressure and "peace processes" bring no peace. They only make us weaker and more vulnerable.

We need to learn from King Shaul's mistake who allowed his heart to turn him away from the law, and adapt an uncompromising struggle against terrorism – a law which for us, as a Jewish state, is an existential necessity. Eliav Shochetman writes, "The beginnings of the sin are in the manifestations of tolerance towards rioters and stone throwers, and its conclusion in the stationing of "peace" as a supreme value which supersedes the obligation to battle terrorism until its demise" (

Parashat Zachor that we read this Shabbat commands us to eradicate Amalek as soon as we enter the Land of Israel (Devarim 25:19). The reason is that it is impossible to set up a proper society when terrorism reigns rampant (has free range). May Hashem avenge the innocent blood of the Fogel family, and may we be able to eradicate all brutal terrorists in our Land! May there be no more innocent Jewish sacrifices for the sake of an imaginary peace. True peace is only when Amalek has been completely eradicated from humanity.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Praising Hashem Through Song

This week’s haftorah teaches us the importance of praising Hashem in song. Hashem must be very pleased with the women of Midreshet B’erot Bat Ayin who praised Him profusely in our musical hallel on Rosh Chodesh Adar. We are thankful to Chaya Fogelman for her joining us monthly to lead our hallel with her unbelievable soulful voice.

Haftorat Parashat Vayikra
Chapter 43:21 - 44:23 

Just as this week’s Torah portion Vayikra is all about the sacrifices, this week's haftorah centers around the importance of the Temple's sacrificial service. The prophet Yesha’yahu rebukes the Israelites for turning to idol worship instead of offering sacrifices. After having rebuked the Israelites profusely for neglecting Hashem’s service, the prophet changers gears and begins to address the Jewish people with love and affection. This teaches us that no matter how far we have gone away from Hashem, and no matter how much rebuke we receive, in the end, Hashem promises to forgive us, bless us, and bestow prophesy upon us once again. “As I will pour water on the thirsty and running water on dry land, I will pour My spirit on your seed and My blessing on your offspring. They shall sprout among the grass like willows on rivulets of water” (Yesha’yahu 44:3-4).

Hashem promises to fulfill our thirst for the lost waters of prophecy. Just as Parashat Vayikra testifies to the prophecy that Moshe received in the Mishkan (Tabernacle), this week’s haftorah assures Israel that we will once again merit the word of Hashem. Our eternal relationship with Hashem can never be broken. Hashem will reestablish his loving relationship with us, and when the time is right, His prophecy will become a daily experience. Even after all we have done against Hashem, He remains right there waiting for us.

Our Raison d’Etre – Praising Hashem
Our haftorah opens by stating the purpose of the creation of the Jewish people: “This people I formed for Myself; they shall recite My praise” (Yesha’yahu 43:21). Rashi reiterates, “I formed this people for Myself, in order that they shall recite My praise.” Radak adds, that the children of Israel must praise Hashem for the miracles that He will perform, when He takes us out of exile. “As the wind blows away the clouds so will I erase your rebellious acts and unintentional sins. Return to me for I have redeemed you” (Yesha’yahu 44:22).Malbim (ad loc) explains that as far as Hashem is concerned our redemption already happened; all that remains is for us to repent and praise Hashem for His miracles. On verse 43:21 Malbim clarifies that it is not enough to give honor to Hashem. Rather, the Jewish people are created specifically in order to praise Hashem, for only we have the ability to grasp the great benefit of Hashem’s endeavors for our sake.

This recognition will inspire us to praise Hashem and tell the world about the greatness of His deeds. Reading this verse with its commentaries, made me realize at my core, that our entire raison d’etre is really only to praise Hashem, wow! Nothing else that I do during the day, like checking my email, cleaning, gardening, taking care of my chickens, food preparations, or even preparing Torah classes is as important as simply praising Hashem, for this I am created! Baruch Hashem, today as well as yesterday, in honor of Rosh Chodesh, I was able to recite Hallel. However, it is not every Rosh Chodesh that I manage to praise Hashem in Hallel. Sometimes it happens that I find myself “too busy” to recite Hallel. There is never a lack of things that needs to get done, and reciting Hallel sometimes keeps being pushed off, until all of a sudden the sun goes down and the opportunity is lost.

Spending Energy on Hashem
Rabbi Dovid Siegel quotes Chazal (our Sages) who explain that we exert enormous energies throughout the day in pursuit of self advancement; however, we are unwilling to exert even minimal energy for the sake of Hashem. We return home after a long tiresome day at work and neglect praying with the “valid” excuse that we are too tired. Why did we not include Hashem in our plans? Why did we spend our energies on everything besides serving Hashem, the purpose for which we were created? There is a spiritual law that the greater the importance of a matter, the greater the resistance in attempting to prevent us from carrying it out. I find myself struggling with the yetzer hara (negative impulse) daily when it comes to praising Hashem.

Are Only Men Created for the Sake of Praising Hashem?
When I finally settle down to pray, after all the “important matters” are taken care of, I can’t wait to get to the personal requests in the tefilah. Yet, while reciting Hashem’s praises, it’s hard to focus my mind. Although women are exempted from reciting Hallel on Rosh Chodesh and during the holidays since it is a positive time-bound mitzvah (Biur Halacha, Orach Chaim, Siman 422), it seems to me, that if we are created in order to praise Hashem, then we should still make the effort. In the past, when women had to go down to the well to draw water, wash the garments by hand, grind their own flour, and dig up their own potatoes, it is understandable why they should be exempt from reciting Hallel.

Today, with washing-machines, disposable diapers, food-processors and pre-checked greens, women have much less of an excuse to refrain from prayer. Especially on Rosh Chodesh, when women are accustomed to abstain from work (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 417) it seems to me, that we should prioritize praising Hashem by reciting Hallel. Reciting Hallel, is actually considered a minhag (custom) even for men.

So just as men have taking this custom upon themselves and are strict about reciting Hallel on Rosh Chodesh, why should women do any less? Aren’t women also created for the sake of praising Hashem? The haftorah concludes by urging both men and women to praise Hashem: “Sing, you heavens, for Hashem has done [this], shout, you lowest parts of the earth; you mountains, burst out in song, the forest and all trees therein; for Hashem has redeemed Ya’acov, and with Israel shall He be glorified (Yesha’yahu 44:23).

It is known that the heavens are a metaphor for the masculine principle, while the earth (mother-earth) represents the feminine. Likewise, Ya’acov refers to the Jewish women, while Israel refers to the men (Rashi, Shemot 19:2). Thus the prophet encourages both men and women to burst out in songs of Hashem’s praises. Let us remember the purpose of our existence and continually find new ways to recite Hashem’s praises!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Haftorat Shabbat Shekalim

Rebbetzin Chana Bracha Siegelbaum with Manuel and Odile Sanchez
It is so good to be back home after a long and strenuous North American tour. I treasure sleeping in my own bed and being in my own energy fields, with my family and dear students.
B”H my tour was successful. I was overwhelmed with the excitement and spiritual hunger of the many students I met everywhere on my tour: women asking more and more, clinging to my every word. There is no question in my mind the world wants spiritual healing! (See below for one sample of the responses I received in Texas.)

Haftorat Shabbat Shekalim
2 Melachim Chapter 12
The Connection between the Torah Reading and its Haftorah
This week we read Parashat Shekalim, the first of the four special Torah readings preceding Pesach. We read Parashat Shekalim during the Shabbat preceding the month of Adar, or on Shabbat Rosh Chodesh Adar. Parashat Shekalim teaches us about the ½ Shekel obligatory donation for adult males of Israel, towards the communal sacrifices. Since this donation is due prior to the month of Nissan, the Torah portion describing it must be read before, or on Rosh Chodesh Adar to remind everyone one month in advance that their donation is due. In honor of Shabbat Shekalim, the haftorah designated to reflect the theme of Shekalim relates how the young King Yeho'ash collected the funds for the upkeep of the first Holy Temple.

The Sprout of Hope
Our haftorah opens by stating that “Yeho’ash was seven years old when he reigned” (2 Kings 12:1). Yeho'ash was the sole survivor from the Davidic Dynasty. The evil Queen Ataliyah, daughter of Achav and Ezevel, had massacred all descendants to the throne and taken the reign in her own hand, to make havoc and infest Israel with idol-worship. Little did she know that her daughter in law, Yehosheva, had hid Ataliyah’s grandson, the little baby Yehoa’ash in the heart of the Temple for six years together with his nursemaid. When Yehosheva, the aunt, risked her life to save Yeho’ash, she became his spiritual mother. Therefore, our haftorah describes Yeho’ash as being seven years old, as a credit to Yehosheva which also means seven. In addition, the feminine sefira of Kingdom is described as being the seventh and last of the seven lower sefirot, (The Rama of Pano).

Our Haftorah teaches us hope, even during the darkest time of corrupt Israeli leadership. While the evil murderess Ataliyah was busy ruling and promoting her crooked idol-worship in Israel, Yehosheva was busy undercover, raising the next righteous king in Israel. After six years of hiding, even at the tender age of seven years old, the existence of Yehoash was revealed, and he was proclaimed king of Yehuda to the delight of the people. Also today, during our corrupt leadership, we await a righteous king – even a child king to restore the kingdom of Israel.

Repairing the House of Holiness
What is the source for the Tzedaka box which adorns every Jewish home?
“Yehoyada, the Kohen, took a chest and bored a hole in the lid of it, and set it beside the altar, on the right side as one comes into the house of Hashem; and the Kohanim that kept the door put in it all the money that was brought into the house of Hashem” (2 Kings 12:10). This was the first official Tzedakka box for the sake of collecting money to repair the Temple. Yehoash, the new king, renewed the people's covenant with G-d, and destroyed all the pagan altars and statues. Yehoash then instructed the Kohanim to collect money to organize the repair and maintenance of the Temple, which had been terribly neglected during the reign of Ataliyah.

Investing in Home Improvements for the Land of Israel
Using the material for the sake of the spiritual is a feminine task which elevates this lower world and infuses it with holiness. In the spirit of repairing the Temple, every woman during the month preceding the month of Pesach, can take the opportunity to elevate her personal sanctuary by organizing repairs in her home, and throwing out the broken items which prevent the flow of energy to each of the rooms in her miniature Temple. Yet, while we invest in home-improvements, it is important to simultaneously remember the Tzedaka box and give generously to the Land of Israel - the home of our Universal Temple, unifying and encompassing all our homes of holiness.

An email from one of my students in Texas:
I just want to thank you again for coming to Texas. There is such a spiritual need on the deep level you teach.
When I left after the meeting, got into the car, ----the energy from me ignited my husband and all the way home (75mi.) we were praising Hashem and opening ourselves up as wide as we could ---without causing the car to lift off the road--ha ha. The energy was so strong I am surprised we didn’t light up the whole road all the way home. What a blessing you are --I only wish I had had a recorder as to go over it later and also to re-iterate it to my husband. I felt like a mother bird feeding him what was said tonite. He hung on every word.
After we did the energy ball prayer, I felt something shiver on my right side all the way up to my head and my hands were full of energy.
We want to come to Israel for an unspecified amount of time. We long to study and learn more.
Todah Todah Rabah Rebbetzin,
Your Oneg students from Texas