Thursday, June 30, 2011

Birth, Renewal, and Redemption

Summer Program Hike
When Shabbat falls on Rosh Chodesh, a special haftarah is recited instead of the one usually related to that week’s parashah. This haftorah is all about redemption, making me think about the specialness of Shabbat, Rosh Chodesh – I believe it is a sign of the forthcoming geula! Chodesh Tov!

Haftorat Parashat Chukat
Shabbat Rosh Chodesh
Yeshayahu 66:1-24 
The Connection Between the Haftorah and Shabbat Rosh Chodesh

I believe that this haftorah was chosen for Shabbat Rosh Chodesh because it connects Shabbat with Rosh Chodesh and describes the renewal of redemption, which the New Moon heralds. “It shall come to pass on every New Moon after New Moon, and Shabbat after Shabbat, that all people shall come to bow down to Me, said Hashem” (Yeshayahu 66:23). By comparing Rosh Chodesh to Shabbat, the prophet gives it great significance. Since the newborn moon of Rosh Chodesh gives us hope for redemption, the entire haftorah describes the forthcoming redemption. At that time the holiday of Rosh Chodesh will become renewed to receive the status of a full-fledged holiday on par with Pesach, Sukkot and Shavuot (Pirkei d’Rabbi Eliezer 44).

Women and Rosh Chodesh Celebration – A Sign that the Geulah is Forthcoming

Rosh Chodesh has always endowed us with a fresh start and an opportunity for introspection regarding what we went through during the past month, and the new opportunities and challenges facing us in the upcoming month. The Tur, (Orach Chaim 417) explains that the three pilgrim festivals correspond to Avraham, Yitzchak and Ya’acov, whereas, Rosh Chodesh corresponded to the twelve tribes. When the tribes sinned by making the Golden Calf, Rosh Chodesh was taken away from them and given to their wives. Therefore, each Rosh Chodesh uniquely reveals the qualities of one of Israel’s tribes. During exile, however, the light of Rosh Chodesh is withheld to a certain degree. Yet, we are already experiencing the beginning of the era of Mashiach when Rosh Chodesh is returning to its intended capacity. This parallels the unfolding of the feminine light in the world. In the last generation, women, especially have begun celebrating and tuning into the message of Rosh Chodesh. This is a prelude to the days of Mashiach, when the entire Jewish people will experience the Divine Feminine Indwelling Presence at the Beit Hamikdash (Temple) every Rosh Chodesh. When our hearts will be purified from the yetzer hara (negative impulse), Rosh Chodesh will become an uplifting experience filled with opportunity for spiritual elevation. (P’sikta Rabbati 1:3). Already now, we increasingly celebrate each month’s particular quality and energy, through our exuberant Rosh Chodesh festivities.

Birth, Renewal, and Redemption

The forthcoming redemption described in our haftorah, in fact employs the metaphor of labor and birth: “Before she labored, she was delivered. Before her pangs came, she bore a son. Whoever heard of such a thing?...Can a land pass through labor in a single day? Or shall a nation be born all at once? ...Shall I, who bring about labor, not bring about birth? ...Shall I, who cause birth, shut the womb?” (Yeshayahu 66:7-10). According to Metzudat David, “Before she was in labor she gave birth” refers to Tzion, because when all of her children will gather inside of her, it is considered as if she gave birth to them, without labor or contractions. Radak explains this metaphor to refer to the sudden redemption which will come upon Israel. Yerushalayim is compared to the mother, and the Jewish people, her children. Before all the children of Israel have gathered completely, the redemption will come unexpectedly to Israel, just like a woman giving birth prior to having contractions. Since the difficulties of pregnancy and childbirth were the consequence of eating from the Tree of Knowledge, at the time of redemption, when the Tree of Knowledge becomes transformed into the Tree of Life, labor pangs are lessened and the process of birth will be less painful.

The Divine Mother will Comfort her Children from the Suffering of Exile.

In our time, we are already experiencing the beginning of this change. I know many women who gave birth before they reached the birthing clinic. This almost happened to myself. I just made it, and gave birth both times, less than twenty minutes after I had arrived. Our haftorah is overflowing with lush promise and hope, maternal love, and divine protection. “I will extend peace to her like a stream...Then you shall suckle, and be carried upon her sides and be dandled upon her knees. As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you and you shall be comforted in Yerushalayim” (Yeshayahu 66:12-12). Radak reveals that the metaphor of a woman is employed because women put more effort into things than men. Just as a mother comforts her children from any difficult experiences they may have gone through, so will the Divine Mother comfort her children, Israel, from the suffering of exile. The prophet relates the place of comfort to Jerusalem, for in this place Hashem will reveal His glory to us. Metzudat David expands this concept and explains that we will be comforted in Yerushalayim, because specifically in Jerusalem will Israel receive much goodness, as a comfort for all the suffering we endured. During redemption, Hashem will give birth to a renewed reality. Spiritually, the world becomes reborn, with a heightened consciousness and capacity for prophecy. This is reflected in Rosh Chodesh, when, on a small scale, we renew our awareness of Hashem. Rabbi Shimshon Refael Hirsch explains, that each time the moon finds the sun again, receiving its rays of light afresh; Hashem wants His people to find Him again, and to be illuminated with His fresh rays of Light. By seeing the renewal of the moon, we access our potential for personal renewal. The more we allow this renewal to enter our lives, the closer we get to the ultimate renewal and the final redemption, as described in our haftorah.

The Month of Tamuz Rectifying the Sense of Seeing by Looking with G-d Colored Glasses

Vision is the sense of the month of Tamuz, and its tribe is Reuven, which means “see a son.” At his birth, Leah named him Reuven because she said, “Surely Hashem has looked upon my affliction” (Bereishit 29:32). The crystal of the tribe of Reuven is the ruby, related to the word Reuben. Due to its brilliant red color, this stone is called odem (from the language of adom/red) in Hebrew, and is the most sensually visible of all the stones. The midrash teaches us that the Jewish people were tempted to make the golden calf on the 17th of Tammuz as a replacement for Moshe, because Satan showed them a vision of Moshe floating dead between heaven and earth (Shemot Rabah 41:7). Perhaps television today can be compared to the vision of the Satan who made the Jewish people lose hope. The screen shows a vision, which is seemingly objective. However, often it is a product of a certain agenda, to destroy the Jewish people and our mission in the world. It may show a vision of Jews murdered and tortured, making Israel loose hope and scared to live here. It often portrays a false image of the Jews as perpetrators reacting excessively aggressive. This is destructive for the Divine Image of Israel, and can alienate people spiritually from her. During this month we have to really work on purifying our vision, and seeing beyond the mask of external physical reality, by connecting with the Divine light behind the mask. What you see is not what you get. You can visit Israel and just see a lot of old rocks. You can walk on the Judean hills, and see nothing but trees and houses. If you look with G-d-colored glasses, you may see beyond the surface to get a sense of David Hamelech who walked these very hills with his flock as he composed the lyrics and tunes of the Tehillim.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Feminine Role in Establishing True Kingdom

Haftorat Korach
The First Book of Shemuel 11:14-12:22
Printable Version

Today no less than all previous generations we are struggling about establishing true Jewish leadership for our nation, Israel. I wonder how many Korach’s we have to go through before we will reach the true Malchut –(Kingdom of Israel). Read on to learn about the feminine role in establishing true Kingdom manifesting Hashem’s Kingdom on Earth.

The Connection between the Haftorah and the Torah Reading
This week’s haftorah describes the coronation of the first king of Israel. The Jewish people had requested from their leader Shemuel to appoint a king, and in our haftorah, Shemuel the prophet fulfills their request. Shemuel himself is actually a descendant of Korach, and he rectifies him through his humility and righteousness. In the haftorah, Shemuel addresses the Jewish people and verifies about his personal integrity in leading them: “Here I am; bear witness against me before G-d and before His anointed; whose ox did I take, or whose ass did I take, or whom did I rob; or whom did I oppress, or from whose hand did I take a bribe...” (1 Shemuel 12:3). This echoes Moshe’s statement in this week’s parasha: “I have not taken a donkey from a single one of them, and I have not harmed a single one of them.” Shemuel is compared to Moshe and Aharon in greatness as it states: “Moshe and Aharon among His Kohanim, and Shemuel upon those who call upon His name; they called upon Hashem and He answered them” (Tehillim 99:6). Just as Moshe and Aharon were chosen by Hashem to lead the Jewish people so was Shemuel. Hashem perpetually prepares for the Jewish people the leader suitable for each generation (Yalkut Shimoni, 1 Shemuel 12:114). Both the haftorah and the Torah reading concern the leadership and kingdom of Israel. Moshe was Israel’s natural leader, having delivered the Jewish people from the slavery of Egypt, being the most humble of all men; he was the channel that reflected Israel on the deepest level. Korach, on the other hand, wanted to impose his rulers-hip upon the people from the outside. Being very distinguished and full of pride, he was unfit to properly reflect the kingdom of Israel.

The King of Israel – Israel’s Inner Expression
When the Jewish people asked Shemuel for a king, they were repeating Korach’s mistake on a much more refined level. In our haftorah, Shemuel rebukes the people for asking for a king: “For your evil is great in the eyes of Hashem, to ask a king for yourselves (ibid. 12:17). The people accept the admonishment, they recognized their liability, and requested that Shemuel pray that Hashem forgive them “All the people said to Shemuel, pray for your servants to Hashem your G-d, that we die not: for we have added to all our sins this evil, to ask for a king for ourselves” (ibid 19). What was wrong with requesting a king? After all it is a mitzvah to appoint a king in Israel as it states: “You shall surely set up a king over you…” (Devarim 17:15). Rabbi Mattis Weinberg explains that the fault was, how the people asked for a king to be appointed from above, rather than appointing a king themselves from within. The true king of Israel “must be a manifestation of the society itself, and cannot be imposed from above – even at the people’s request. Only by appointing him as a part of the natural flow of events from within the society as happened with David – can he be a melech (king).” As long as the king is not the manifestation of the inner expression of the people of Israel, then he is a little bit like Korach who desired to impose his ruler-ship upon the people from the outside.

Malchut – The Feminine Inner Expression
The true Jewish king resembles a woman in many ways. Both are required to become a pure channel to unify and manifest the characteristics of hence the Jewish people, hence the Jewish home. Malchut, the last sefirah, represents the feminine sphere directed inward towards the internal inner mode. This is contrasted with the six middle masculine sefirot that represent the six outward directions of extension, east-west, north-south up and down. Malchut is the internal, inner-bound feminine Shabbat – the center that draws all six days of the week together. Shabbat is called "source of all blessing" (see for example Likutei Moharan Mahadura Kama 31), because it absorbs spirituality from the six masculine days of the week, channeling, harmonizing and directing their blessing into the activities of the coming week. In order to serve as the connecting, unifying link, encompassing all of the sefirot within it, malchut cannot have any characteristic or definition of its own. Yet, that doesn’t make the feminine focused light of malchut less powerful, as nothing occurs among the lower beings unless it goes through malchut," (Tikunei Zohar 19:40b, Zohar Chadash, 11a). In the same way no person is born without passing through the open, caring, nurturing, loving motherly womb.

Overcoming Outwardly Directed Sense of Self through Quintessential Inwardness
To manifest malchut physiologically women develop and expand the seed from potential into actuality. Spiritually, too, women nurture the flash of spirituality from its external, outward appearance, directing it inward into her home and environment. Chana Weisberg explains that women are called "bat melech” – daughters of royalty, because we are defined by quintessential inwardness, which is our entire source of honor, and praise. In order to nurture our predisposition to receive, we must overcome any strongly expressed, outwardly directed sense of self, which could block or interfere with receiving, and directing spirituality into our environment. Likewise, King David, the personification of human royalty was the epitome of humility, calling himself “a worm and not a man”(Tehillim 22:7). He realized that he had nothing of his own. His entire grandeur was truly an undeserved gift received from Hashem. The ultimate purpose and fruition of Creation is actualized only through the final sefirah, malchut. For only through malchut is Hashem’s original Divine intent to establish a relationship with physical beings in the lower world accomplished. In the six days of Creation, woman was created last, because she represents the ultimate purpose of Creation. Only through woman and her feminine attributes of malchut, will the world actualize its mission and receive final completion when "G-d will be King over all Creation…" (Zechariah 14:9).

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Ability to Completely Turn Life Around

Haftorat Shelach Lecha
The Book of Yehoshua 2:1-24
Printable Version
This week’s haftorah about Rachav the convert, teaches us about the ability of a person to completely turn her life around from being on the lowest spiritual rung (Rachav was a harlot) to raise her self up to the highest spiritual level of closeness to Hashem. (Rachav merited becoming the wife of Yehoshua the leader of the Jewish people). It is also interesting that Rachav’s declaration of conversion includes recognizing the right of the Jewish people to conquer the Land of Israel. The name means Rachav literary means “wide.” Rav Tzadok of Lublin explains, the advantage of the ba’al tshuva over the tzaddik is that when a crooked line is made into a straight line, the line becomes broader. I’d like to call on the readers to give examples of the broadness of the ba’al teshuva/convert.

Rachav the Harlot
In Rebbetzin's Garden
“Yehoshua the son of Nun sent out of Shittim two men to spy secretly, saying go view the land, and Yericho. They went, and came to the house of a woman harlot named Rachav, and lodged there...” (Yehoshua 2:1). Most commentaries agree that Rachav was a harlot, and although the word zonah can also be translated as inn-keeper (from the same root as the word mazon which means food), she was only called thus as clean language – to diminish her disgrace. Possibly her “inn” served as both a place for lodging and meals, where even her body became food for the lodgers. Rachav, the harlot was a “loose” woman. Just as she lacked the boundary of morality, her home, rather than being inside of the boundary of the city, was strategically built into the city-wall. Rachav became well-known in the world, since important officials visited her “inn” and confided in her. The spies of Israel went to Rachav, because top secrets were revealed to her through her important connections.

Rachav: Woman of Ultimate Renewal
Upon meeting the Jewish spies, a spark was ignited in Rachav’s soul. She was inspired to turn her life completely around and perform the highest teshuva possible. She risked her life to save the Jews from the king of Yericho, as she explained the reason for her heroic action: “I know that Hashem has given you the Land, and that dread of you has fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land melt away because of you. For we have heard how Hashem dried up the waters of the Sea of Suf before you, when you came out of Egypt…” (Yehoshua 2: 9-10). The midrash explains how there was no ruler or noble-man who had not come to Rachav, the harlot. She was ten years old when Israel left Egypt. Although she was involved in an immorality the entire forty years during which Israel journeyed in the wilderness, she converted in the end of her fiftieth year (Yalkut Shimoni, Yehoshua 1:9). What motivated Rachav the harlot to such intense teshuva? It was hearing about the miracles that Hashem had performed for Israel which inspired her, as she stated, “For we have heard…” There are many different levels of hearing. The rest of the Canaanites also heard. They became afraid and were trembling, but their hearing did not motivate them to any personal commitment or action. Only Rachav responded to the truth that she heard – about Hashem’s miraculous salvation of the children of Israel, and she processed what she had heard for forty years. Despite all of these years, none of the original excitement of the event had faded in her memory. At the age of fifty, she was finally moved to act upon what had made such an impression upon her as a little girl. Her recognition of Hashem being the Master of the Universe moved her greatly. However, it was only by meeting the righteous Israelites that she received the impetus to change her life around completely. In response to Rachav’s intense teshuva, the Jewish spies promised her that they would save the lives of her and her family, at the time of the Jewish conquest of the city.

Elevating the Tools of Immorality
The highest form of repentance is through using and elevating the identical tools employed for the previous sin. This kind of teshuva is called teshuvat hamiskal. For example, if someone used to cook milk and meat together daily, for a decadent non-Jewish restaurant, then the highest form of repentance would be elevating his cooking skills by cooking for a holy Jewish event, such as a wedding or sheva bracha. This kind of teshuva transforms the previous sins into merits. Perhaps the reason why Scripture mentions Rachav’s previous occupation, calling her “the harlot” even after her conversion (Yehoshua 6:22), is to emphasize the greatness of her teshuva. Davka (specifically) from the lowest place of being a harlot, a person can seek refuge under the wing of Hashem and be saved from both physical and spiritual death. It was actually the extent of her prior sins that eventually brought her to convert and seek closeness with Hashem. Rachav saved the Jewish spies by “letting them down by the rope through the window” (Yehoshua 2:15) Rashi explains that by means of this same rope and window the adulterers used to come up to her. She said, “Master of the Universe! Through these I sinned, through these please forgive me! Through these I had my escapades. With these very tools of sin, I'm going to risk my life and let down these two Jewish spies.” Rachav teaches us that human beings can use the exact tools of their failure to anchor themselves closer to the Ribono shel Olam, and merit to be accepted into the elite of Klal Yisrael. Rachav merited becoming the wife of Yeshoshua, and having eight prophets and Kohanim descend from her. They were: Yermiahu, Chilkiah, Shariah, Ma’aseha, Baruch ben Niriah, Chanmael and Shalom.... Rabbi Yehudah says even Chuldah the prophetess was descended from Rachav. If someone who came from a people [the Canaanites] about whom it states, “Don't keep any soul alive,” could bring herself so close to Hashem, how much more so concerning the Jews when we keep the Torah. There are several pious female converts: Hagar, Osnat, Tziporah, Shifra, Puah, Bat Pharaoh, Rachav, Ruth and Yael the wife of Chaver the Keni (Yalkut Shimoni Yehoshua 1:9). 

The Wall, the Rope and the Window 
There are different opinions as to which tools of sin Rachav elevated through her teshuva. According to Yalkut Shimoni they were the wall, rope and window. These three things can be compared to the three main mitzvoth of women: Chalah, Family Purity and Candlelight. The wall protects the home and teaches us proper boundaries, this corresponds to the mitzvah of chalah. Taking a piece of our bread and giving to the Kohen teaches us the proper boundary of holding ourselves back from grabbing everything for ourselves. Like the wall, the gift of chalah protects and blesses the rest of the fruits in our orchard. It is interesting that only after her realization of Hashem’s oneness does Scripture emphasize that Rachav lived in the wall (Yehoshua 2:15). Now she has learned to place the proper wall around her being, which used to be open for all to take. However, she keeps a window open in order to interact with the outside world. She is learning when to open herself to others and how to elevate her vulnerability. Instead of being taken advantage of by men, now, with full consciousness, she allows herself be vulnerable, by risking her life for the sake of saving these holy men of Israel. From the window light emanates into the home. This corresponds to the mitzvah of candlelight, which enlightens the home. With the rope you connect. This corresponds to the mitzvah of family purity through which a woman connects herself to her husband. Possibly, the rope can also symbolize how Rachav elevated her past sins and thus connected her past and her future.  

The Flax and the Rope
According to the Maharal of Prague, it was the flax, the rope and the window that Rachav used to help the men who came to her. She would hide them with the flax, to save their reputation. Through these same three objects, she merited to rescue the spies. The Maharal explains that someone who commits illicit relations, sins first with his eyes. This can be compared to the window as we know the eyes are the windows of the soul. Afterwards he begins to sin with lustful thoughts, and finally, G-d forbid, through the deed itself. Just as flax is used to produce the rope, so is the thought (hirhur) the beginning of actual sin. The lustful thought is still present during the sin, in the same way as flax continues to be part of the rope. The rope is compared to the act itself, as the rope can be used to connect two people together for bad or for good (Chidushei Agadot, Part Four, Page 74, Mesechet Eduyot). 

Becoming White as Snow
“She bound the scarlet cord in the window” (Yehoshua 2:21). The red thread of our haftorah ties together with the blue thread of this week’s parasha reading, where we read about the mitzvah of the techelet string in the tzitzit. Why was Rachav instructed specifically to hang a red thread of scarlet from her window as a sign to Yehoshua’s men that her family was to be saved? The color scarlet, in Hebrew is usually referred to as tola’at shani. The word “tola’at” means “worm” and “shani” refers to the dye (or the dyed material) obtained from the eggs of the insects which attach themselves to the kermes oak. The red color carries associations to Rachav’s previous occupation, such as the “red light” district. However, just as the red color of fire turns in to white ashes, the red string is a vivid symbol of no matter how immoral and wormy anyone has become, there is always hope of returning. Actually, the Hebrew word used for cord in our verse, is the very unusual “tikva,” which means hope, like in Israel’s anthem “Hatikva.” The exquisite Torah verse that we read in Shabbat hachazon eternally reminds us that “Although your sins be like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be like [white] wool” (Yeshauyahu 1:18). Even if our sins are as striking as a red dye, through teshuva we can rise above them, like Rachav, the harlot, who became the wife of the leader of Israel.

Transforming the Fire of Lust into Passion for Holiness
While the color scarlet contrasted with white usually is a negative color symbolizing sin, The Eishet Chail uses the color of scarlet in the reverse way, to protect her household against the cold of snow. “She does not fear the snow for all of her household are clothed with scarlet” (Mishlei 31:21).The color of scarlet – deep red – is the color of fire. Perhaps we can say that the Eishet Chail has her own and her family’s fire in control. She protects her family by channeling the very same fire which usually causes people to sin, into fire and passion for Hashem’s mitzvoth. One of the problems of our time is that even when a person is able to overcome his passion for sin; he sometimes forgets to remain hot for holiness. This makes him susceptible to Amalek’s influence, which cooled down Israel’s desire and yearning for holiness. Pursuit of holiness such as Torah learning, tefilah, yearning for the Temple and for Mashiach requires deed, initiative and warmth. The scarlet string may symbolize how Rachav transformed her fire for immorality into the greatest passion for holiness.

Her Name of Space
Our Rabbis taught that Rachav was one of the four strikingly beautiful women in the world. While Yael evoked passion with her voice, Avigail by remembering her, Michal the daughter of Shaul by seeing her, Rachav’s attraction was so great that she evoked passion only through mentioning her name (Babylonian Talmud, Megilah 15a). Her name “Rachav” literary means “wide.” Rav Tzadok of Lublin explains, the advantage of the ba’al tshuva over the tzaddik is that when a crooked line is made into a straight line, the line becomes broader (Sefer Chesbonot Charutz, Chapter 6). It is interesting that “Rachav – Broad” represents the ultimate Ba’al Teshuva in the way she used the means to her sins for mitzvot. Likewise, her name is connected with widening the border, just as the Torah emphasizes that her house was in the wall, meaning the border of the city of Yericho, which in itself is a city on the border of the land of Israel. Rachav also had the key role in enabling Israel to conquer the border of Yericho and the entire Israel. By straightening herself she extended her borders to become part of the land of Israel.

Pious Convert
Rabbi Shmuel son of Nachman said this can be compared to a king who had an orchard wherein has planted rows of nut, apple and pomegranate trees, which he gave to his son. When his son would do his will, the king would return and see a beautiful plant in the world which he would uproot and plant in his orchard. However, when his son would not do his will the king would see a beautiful plant inside the orchard, and uproot it. Likewise, all the time that Israel is doing the will of G-d (the Place), He sees a Tzaddik among the nations of the world like Yitro, and Rachav and brings him to cleave to Israel. But at the time when Israel is not doing the will of Hashem, he sees a Tzaddik and righteous, kosher and fear of heaven among them and expel him from within them (Midrash Rabah, Shir Hashirim, Parsha 6 Piska 10).

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Shout for Joy, O Daughter of Zion…

This week’s haftorah from the last of the twelve Minor Prophets, Zechariah, is one of my favorites. It is so beautifully poetic and overflowing with hope, in its description of Hashem’s returning Israel with the Shechina to our Holy Land.

Haftorat Beha’alotcha
Zechariah 2:14-4:7
The Connection between the Haftorah and the Torah Reading
Rebbetzin with her two sisters on her porch in Bat Ayin
The vision of the golden Menorah (Candelabra) in this week’s haftorah links the haftorah to Parashat Beha’alotcha, which opens with instructing Aharon to kindle the Menorah daily. Nechama Leibowitz explains that the lighting of the Menorah symbolizes the purpose of the entire service in the Mishkan – the elevation of the soul towards the Divine light by keeping the mitzvot of the Torah. The light emanating from the golden seven-branched Menorah represent the spiritual light of the Shechina, the Divine Indwelling Presence of G-d. Moshe was unable to picture or comprehend the design of the Menorah, until Hashem showed him in a vision. In the haftarah, Zechariah is likewise shown a vision of a “Golden Menorah with a bowl upon the top of it, and seven lamps to it, and seven pipes to the seven lamps, attached to its head. Two olive trees by the Menorah, one upon the right side of the bowl and the other by the left” (Zechariah 4:2-3). It seems to me that the vessel for spiritual light must be shown through a Divine vision, since it cannot be comprehended through human logic. It is evidently by Divine Providence that the secular State of Israel has chosen as its emblem, the image of the Menorah as described in this week’s haftorah. This emblem clearly symbolizes how Israel is a vessel for the Indwelling Presence of the Shechina. The red thread that ties this week’s parashah to its haftorah is that they both describe the dwelling of the Shechina within Israel. In the parashah, the description of kindling the Menorah is followed by the purification of the Levites for the service in the Mishkan, and the cloud of Hashem’s Shechina, which covered the Mishkan. Even the story about Miriam and Aharon’s critique of Moshe, teaches us about how Moshe had to always be ready for the Shechina, which dwelled perpetually upon him. The haftorah describes not only the reconstruction of the Second Temple, but moreover, it alludes to the final geulah when Hashem’s Shechina will return permanently to Israel. The Mashiach will be able to build the Temple and cause the Shechina to dwell within it as effortlessly as lighting the Menorah, “…not by physical might or power, but by my spirit, says Hashem of Hosts” (Zechariah 4:6).

Messianic Prophesy
The haftorah opens in high spirits describing the exuberant happiness that we will experience when the Shechina returns to Yerushalayim: “Shout for joy, O daughter of Tzion, for, behold! I will come and dwell in your midst, says Hashem” (Zechariah 2:14). The Prophet announces the forthcoming greatest joy, when Hashem will return to dwell openly within the Jewish People after the longest period of concealment. Though the haftorah definitely refers to the historical period in which Zechariah lived, towards the end of the Babylonian Exile, the underlying message addresses the Diaspora two and a half Millennia later, prophesying the rebuilding of the Third Temple, by the Mashiach. Rabbi Yechezkiel, the Noda b’Yehuda explains that the verse, “And many nations will attach themselves to Hashem…” (Zechariah 2:15), clearly refers to the time of Mashiach, for only in the Future to Come will the nations leave their idols and return to Hashem. This principle is reflected in our prayer on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, “For My House will be called a House of Prayer for all nations!” (Yesha’yahu 56:7). In addition, Hashem promises in the haftorah “…I will dwell in your midst” (Ibid. 14), yet the dwelling of Hashem’s Shechina was one of the five things missing in the Second Temple (Babylonian Talmud, Yoma 21b). Therefore, the optimistic prophecy in our haftorah primarily refers to the final redemption.

Daughter of Tzion –Under the Shelter of Hashem’s Shechina
Who is the “Daughter of Tzion” mentioned in the haftorah? According to Rabbi Nachman of Breslau, Bat Tzion is the root of the Neshama of Israel, which is the essence of happiness. We need to protect this holy Neshama from the impure shells of sorrow and moaning with extra holiness (Likutei Halachot, Hilchot Peria v’Revia v”ishut 3). It seems that in our generation sadness, depression, fear and worry easily creep in to our psyche and debilitate us. It takes great soul work to transform and eradicate these negative emotions from our consciousness. The first step is to recognize them, as we often block away feeling anything at all out of fear. By strengthening our bitachon (trust in Hashem) and realizing that EVERYTHING is for the good, with Hashem’s help we have the ability to overcome negativity and reach a constant level of happiness. B’er Mayim Chaim explains that there is the protecting wall of Bat Tzion (See Eicha 2:8), which surrounds Israel like a wall, and seals us to be under the shelter of the wings of the Shechina (Parshat Shoftim 17). In my practice of spiritual healing I often use a guided imagery, visualizing this protective wall of Hashem’s light surrounding us, to develop immunization to disapproval and criticism from others.

The Return of the Shechina to Tzion for the Sake of Bat Tzion – The Congregation of Israel
The Noda b’Yehuda reveals that Tzion always refers to the dwelling place of the Shechina as Tzion means the innermost point. Bat Tzion refers to the congregation of Israel, because the Shechina dwells not only in a particular place but specifically for the sake of the Jewish people. Also in the time of exile, wherever Israel was exiled, the Shechina was exiled with us (Babylonian Talmud, Megillah 29a). In the future with the ingathering of the exiles the Shechina will return with us. This is the intention of the prophet, “Shout for Joy O Bat Tzion,” specifically “Bat” and not just “Tzion,” because the main Simcha is for the sake of Bat Tzion (Israel) when Hashem “will dwell in our midst.” After learning this, I was still wondering why Israel is particularly called a “daughter.” In Lurianic Kabbalah the lowest sephira of Malchut (Kingdom) is the archetype of “daughter.” Malchut is the pure channel and manifestation of the upper sephirot. It is Israel’s task to manifest Hashem’s light into the world. Fulfilling this task is only possible when the unified Malchut returns to Israel, when we b”H will crown Mashiach as our righteous king. The Jewish soul is moreover a “daughter” of Hashem as it emanates from His holiness. Just like we related to Hashem as a loving father, Hashem calls us “daughter of Tzion” when his Shechina returns to dwell within us in the Land of Israel. The Noda b’Yehuda continues to explain that since it is not an honor for Hashem to be outside of His holy Temple, therefore, Hashem’s Shechina is concealed during the exile. Sometimes it is manifested through judgment and the suffering of exile. However the judgment is always joined with (rachamim) mercy, for the purpose of the exile of the Shechina is to cover us secretly with the wings of the Shechina “For I am Adoshem Elokeichem (your G-d)”(Shemot 29:46) Even in the time of judgment (Elokim) I am still Hashem of Kindness. This concept is reflected in the end of the first verse of our haftorah.

For the Sake of the Joy of the Daughter of Tzion – The Jewish Woman
During our exile, although the Shechina is exiled with us, it does not dwell within our midst. However during the redemption, “Behold I come, and I will dwell within your midst, and many nations shall join themselves to Hashem in that day, and shall be My people, and I will dwell in your midst” (Zechariah 2:14-15). I feel very fortunate to witness the beginning of this process, as Hashem’s Shechina returns to Israel. In the serene mountains of Bat Ayin, its echo can be sensed through the rush of the wind in the trees, the reflections of the colors of the sunset, the sweetness of the fruits grown on the Land, and the enlightened star-filled sky. While dancing with the Kalah (bride) at weddings in Yerushalayim and its outskirts, the glow of the Shechina reverberates and fills the air. Through the singing and rejoicing of the “daughter of Tzion” – the Jewish women, we will bring about Hashem’s response “For here I come, and I will dwell in your midst, Says Hashem!”

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Hidden Lessons from a Hidden Woman

Haftorat Naso
Shoftim 13:2-25
This week's haftorah describes one of the most hidden women in Tanach: Tzelalponit from whom we can glean so many hidden lessons. I have just learned that the name Tzelalponit has the power to counteract negative spiritual forces. This name protected the daughter of a mother who had lost several infants shortly after birth. It, moreover, has to power to save women whose life is in danger, when added to their original name. Read on and you will understand why…

The Connection between the Haftorah and the Torah Reading
This week's haftorah describes the birth of Shimshon, a lifetime Nazir (Nazarite). This is an appropriate haftorah for this week's Torah reading, which discusses the laws of the Nazir, who may not drink wine, partake from anything made from grapes; cut the hair of his head, nor come in contact with the dead. In Parashat Naso, the laws of the Nazir follow the unfortunate story of the sota (the woman suspected of adultery) to teach us that "anyone who sees the sota in her disgrace will vow to abstain from wine" [as does the Nazir](Babylonian Talmud, Sota 2a). In contrast, our haftorah prophesies the birth of Shimshon, who was supposed to be a Nazir from the womb, not as a result of a moral flaw of any woman, but rather, it was the merit of his mother – Manoach's wife – which brought about the birth of Shimshon.

The Merit of Manoach's Wife
"An angel of Hashem appeared to the woman, and said to her, Behold now, you are barren, and have never given birth; you shall conceive and bear a son. Consequently, beware now, and do not drink wine or strong drink, and do not eat any unclean thing. Because you shall conceive, and bear a son; and a razor shall not come upon his head, for the child shall be a Nazir to G-d from the womb; and he will begin to save Israel from the hand of the Philistines. And the woman came and said to her husband, saying, A man of God came to me, and his appearance was like the appearance of an angel of God, very awesome; but I did not ask him from where he was and his name he did not tell me. But he said to me, Behold, you shall conceive, and bear a son; and now drink no wine or strong drink, neither eat any unclean thing: for the child shall be a Nazir to G-d from the womb to the day of his death" (Shoftim 13:3-7).

Why did the angel appear to Manoach's wife and not to Manoach? Perhaps it was because the angel appeared without prayer or preparation, and spontaneous prophetic experiences happen more to women. Malbim explains that the reason why the angel didn't appear to Manoach but rather to his wife is because she was more ready than him for the appearance of the angel. In the end of the haftorah we see how Manoach's wife excels in emuna (faith), and through the high level of her faith she is able to reassure her husband who was afraid that "We shall surely die, for we have seen a G-dly angel" (Shoftim 13:22). Manoach's wife reassured him, "Had Hashem wanted to put us to death, He would not have accepted from our hand an elevation-offering and a meal-offering, nor would He have shown us all this, nor would He let us hear such tidings at this time" (ibid. 23). She understood that if Hashem wished them to die, he wouldn't have sent them an angel informing them that they would bear a son who would fight the Philistines.

Learning Emuna from Manoach's Wife
Even though Manoach's wife had witnessed far less miracles than Am Yisrael in the desert, she would have much to teach the Jewish people in the wilderness. Had only the Jewish people in the desert used Manoach's wife's principle of thinking, many complaints and fears could have been avoided. Using her logic, Rabbi Nebenzahl explains how they should have realized that had Hashem wished to let the Jewish people die of thirst in the wilderness, He would not have accepted their Korban Pesach only a few days earlier. He would not have shown them all the great miracles in Egypt and by the sea, and He would not have promised them entry into Eretz Yisrael. When we succumb to irrational fears, it is our yetzer hara (negative inclination) that makes us think like Manoach rather than his wife. If we only realize all the endless miracles that Hashem showers upon us every single day, there would be no room for pessimistic thoughts. When things don't go our way, rather than being afraid that Hashem is punishing us, we can learn from Manoach's wife to recognize Hashem's great love for us and that it is all a test to bring us closer to Him.

"Hatzlelponi": Woman of Shadows
Who was Manoach's wife, the mother of Shimshon? Although her name is not directly given in Tanach, according to the midrash, her name was צללפוני Tzelalfoni(t) or הַצְלֶלְפּוֹנִי Hatzlelponi (Babylonian Talmud, Baba Bathra 91a). This name appears in 1 Divrei haYamim 4:3, being the name of a woman from the tribe of Yehudah. As a rule, it is mainly the males who are mentioned in genealogies, as the heads of families, Hatzlelponi stands out, and there must, therefore, be a special reason for mentioning her. Radak concludes that she was an important woman. The midrash explains, that Manoach's wife was righteous, for she merited to speak with the angel. Since she saw an angel her name is called Tzelalfoni. The "Poni" part of her name refers to "Ponah beMalach," – she saw (or turned to) an angel. The "Tzelal" part of her name refers to being in the shadow of the angel. "Tzel" is a term used in the Torah when Lot sees an angel (Bereishit 19:8), and Manoach's wife sees an angel twice, therefore she is called "Hatzlel" (with a double lamed), rather than just "Hatzel." (Bemidbar Rabah 10:5). This is congruent with Malbim's explanation of Song of Songs 2:17 "Hatzellalim" – "The shadows" referring to prophetic visions.

Going After His Wife
Rabbi Nachman said: Manoach was an ignorant man, as is written, "Manoach rose and went after his wife" (Shoftim 13:11). But Rabbi Nachman bar Yitzchak disagreed, asking: Does this mean that Elkana was ignorant, from the verse "Elkana went after his wife" (Tosafot note that they were not able to find such a verse), or Elisha, as is written, "He rose and went after her" (2 Melachim 4:30)? In these cases the verse simply means that the man followed the advice of the woman. The same is true of Manoach, who followed his wife's advice. Rabbi Ashi said, in view of Rabbi Nachman's words, claiming that Manoach was ignorant; it would seem that he did not even study the Torah. For it is written, "Rivka and her maids arose, and they rode the camels, and they went after the man" (Bereishit 24:41). They did not go before the man (Babylonian Talumd, Berachot 61a).

Allow the Man to Go First, and He Will Follow the Advice of His Wife
Perhaps one reason why Chazal teach that a man should not walk behind a woman even his own wife, is that seeing the behind of a woman, may cause a man to have improper thoughts. Even in regards to his own wife, it seems to me, that he should not regard her rear, in order not to think of her in a lowly immodest way. Rather her face should be foremost in his mind. Rabbi Nachman in the gemara defends the great men (Elkana and Elisha) who are described as walking after a woman, by explaining that they did not necessarily walk after (behind) a woman in the physical sense, but rather, they followed the advice of the woman, which is totally legitimate. The gemara implies that women have what to say even to the greatest prophets. (According to the midrash, Elkana was also a prophet.) Rabbi Ashi still insists that although Elkana and Elisha followed the advice of women, in the case of Manoach, he was ignorant and was not only under his wife's influence, but he did, in fact, walk behind her. This had to be so, since the angel appeared to her and not to him, "She alone knew the place where [the angel] appeared" (Metzudat David, Shoftim 13:11). However, according to Rashi ibid., Manoach went after his wife's advice. We can, therefore conclude that Manoch followed his wife both in the physical and spiritual sense. A possible reason why it is only acceptable for a man to follow a woman in the spiritual but not in the physical sense, is that on the exterior level it is important that the husband comes before the wife. He needs to feel important in this way in order for him to be ready to follow the internal advice of his wife, for on the innermost level, "The woman of valor is the crown of her husband" (Mishlei 12:4).

Saving On Ben Pelet in her Prior Reincarnation
Hatzlalponit, the mother of Shimson, is one of the seven barren women in the world corresponding to the seven days of creation. She corresponds to the sixth day of creation – the day Adam and Chava were created. (Sefer Kehilat Ya'acov 95). The Rama of Pano reveals that Tzelaponit was the reincarnation of Lamech's wife Tzila, which also means shadow. She had two shadows (as the word tzelal indicates) and was later reincarnated in Chana who sat in the shadow of Hashem. Both of these women, who gave birth to special men after being barren, rectified the original Tzila who drank a potion in order to prevent pregnancy, so her husband, Lamech, could enjoy basking in her undivided shadow. (Sefer Gilgulei Neshamot 30).The Rama of Pano, furthermore brings that Tzelalponit was the reincarnation of the wife of On ben Pelet, whom she saved (hitzila) from the wicked congregation of Korach. The first part of the name "Tzelal" (צלל) shares the same root as the word for saving (צלה). Since she saved On ben Pelet, in her reincarnation as Tzelaponit, she merited to see the angel first. (Ibid. 90).

In her Last Reincarnation the Rainclouds Came to Her First
The last reincarnation of Tzelalponit and Manoach was during the time of the Talmud. Abba Chelkiah, the grandson of Choni HaMa'agal (who was famous for causing the rain to fall) was Manoach the ignorant man who went after his wife. The Talmud recounts, that people would come to Abba Chilkiya to ask him to pray for rain. He went after his wife and placed himself between the sages and his wife, because he didn't trust the sages not to look at his wife. Moreover, the clouds of rain came up first from where his wife was standing rather than from where he was standing. The reason is that the wife has more merit since she is in the house and she gives bread to the poor. In this way, she benefits them more than her husband who just gives them money. Another reason why the rain would fall for the wife of Rabbi Chilkiya is that their neighborhood was full of ruffians. Abba Chilkia prayed (מצלי) that they would die; whereas, his wife prayed that they would repent, and so it happened (Babylonian Talmud, Ta'anit 23b). The Rama of Pano adds that Abba Chilkiya went after his wife to show that what he did in the reincarnation of Manoach was well intended and for the good, for his wife was very pious. Just as the rainclouds came to her first, so did the angel come to her first in her previous reincarnation of Manoach's wife – the Tzelalponit (Gilgulei Neshamot 1).