Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Repairing the Gaps

Haftorat Shabbat Shuvah 
Hoshea 14:1-10
Printable Version
This Haftorah of Repentance teach us about repairing the gap between our head and the rest of our being, between Hashem’s Infinite Light and His revelation in the world. Read on to learn about the Feminine characteristic of Teshuvah (repentance). Wishing you the greatest Teshuvah – return to your essential self which is intimately in tune with Hashem’s infinite light. 

Giving Birth to the Coming Year
During the ten days of Repentance we read the special haftorah about teshuvah from the book of Hoshea. “Return, O Israel, to Hashem your G-d, for you have fallen because of your sin” (Hoshea 14:2). The Ten Days of Repentance give birth to the entire year and become the incubating period for all our actions, speech and thoughts throughout the year. Therefore, at this time we are called to return to Hashem, and become our very best. The closeness with Hashem which we will be able to attain now, will influence our spiritual level during every day of the upcoming year. Just as a birthing mother may benefit from a labor-coach, so is it recommended during this time, to seek out our Rabbis and mentors for advice and spiritual tune up.

Returning the Heh
The word for repentance: “Teshuvah” – תשובה can be understood to mean תשוב-ה “teshuv-heh” – return the heh in Hashem’s four lettered Name consisting of the Hebrew letters, yud, heh and vav and heh. Each of the Ten Sefirot (manifestations of Hashem’s light in the world) corresponds to one of the letters in this Holy Name. The yud corresponds to the sefirah called Chochmah (Wisdom), while the first heh corresponds to Binah (Analytic Insight). The vav is associated with the six middle sefirot from Chesed (Kindness) to Yesod (Foundation), while the final heh corresponds to Malchut (Royalty). According to Arizal, a sin separates between the final heh and the remaining three letters in Hashem’s name. This can be remedied by teshuvah, which causes the heh to return to its rightful place (Sha'ar HaGilgulim, Chapter 21).

Healing the Gap between Heaven and Earth
The separation of the lower heh of Hashem’s Name is manifested by a separation between the spiritual and the physical, our good intentions and our holy actions. The main raison d’etre of Amalek, the arch enemy of Israel, is to separate between Heaven and Earth between Hashem and the world. The Christians, likewise, separate between spirituality and physicality. They promulgate monkhood and celibacy to be the highest religious goal. As we are moving deeper into the Messianic Era, the gap between Heaven and Earth is gradually being healed. For example, in our time we experience a great awakening regarding mindful eating. While being engaged in the most physical of all actions, a person must aspire to connect with Hashem, his spiritual source. According to the Rebbe of Biala, through holy eating a person may achieve greater spiritual rectifications than through tefilah (prayer) (A Person’s Table Atones, Chapter 1, Page 7). Perhaps, the reason for this is that through connecting the physical with the spiritual we repair the breach between the heh in Hashem’s name and the rest of its letters.

Twofold Return – to Rectify both Action and Feeling
The Reishit Chachma explains that there are two kinds of teshuvah. The Lower Teshuvah – ((תשובה תתאה corresponds to the last heh of Hashem’s name whereas the Upper Teshuvah –(תשובה עילאה) corresponds to the first heh of Hashem’s name. The Lower Teshuvah has the power to eradicate the sin, and is motivated by fear. However, the Higher Teshuvah which is motivated by love has the power to transform sin into merit. Malbim explains that the prophet urges us to return twice corresponding to these two kinds of Teshuvah. The Lower Teshuvah is described in verse two as “until – עַד Hashem”, whereas the Higher Teshuvah is described in the following verse, “Take words with you and return into – אֵל Hashem” (Ibid 3). The words we are to take with us are the reports of the good deeds we performed through the Lower Teshuvah, which will propel us to “return/repent” a second time on a deeper level, penetrating the foreskin of our heart that blocks us from feeling Hashem’s love. Through this Highest Teshuvah we will become a pure channel, ready for prophesy, completely in tune with Hashem’s will. Only then will Hashem “Forgive all sin…” (ibid.), including the unintentional sins. Moreover “He will take what is good…” (Ibid.), this is the sin that has now been transformed to merit and become totally good.

The Feminine Nature of Repentance and Rebirth
The two heh’s ה in Hashem’s Name are considered feminine letters as opposed to the remaining letters of the yud י and the vav ו which are masculine. The shape of both of the masculine letters is linear, the yud forms a small line, and the vav is an extended straight line. The heh’s, however, are wider and more complex with an opening both below and above. To be straight is a masculine virtue. This includes remaining within the straight line of the exact boundaries of time and space, as required by the positive time-bound mitzvoth such as praying in a Minyan at the prescribed time, and shaking the lulav every day during the holiday of Sukkot. Picking oneself up after having fallen is a feminine quality. Women who experience their natural cyclic changes are mothers of invention, positive change and transformation. Flexibility, creativity and ability to think out of the box are employed in the teshuvah process. Unhealthy, failing routines are altered accordingly. Mothers are mistresses of teshuvah through which we give birth to our renewed selves. Breathing is also vital in the birthing process. Therefore, the letter heh which has the sound of the breath is imbued with procreative powers. In order for Avraham’s wife, Sarah, to be able to give birth, the masculine yud of her previous name was exchanged with the feminine birthing heh. (Kli Yakar Bereishit 17:15) It is this same breath of the letter heh which preceding each of the Ten Sayings that gave birth to the world. Hashem indeed created this world with the letter heh (Rashi Bereishit 2:4). Just as the heh is open at the top, so is this world open to those who return in teshuvah (Babylonian Talmud, Menahot 29b).

May we take advantage of these days of gestation to breathe new life into our rigid negative habits, and may we employ our feminine flexibility to transform them in true teshuvah and spiritual rebirth! 
G’mar Chatimah Tovah! 
May we be sealed for a Good Year!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Dancing on the Bridge of Redemption

Haftorat Nitzavim
Yesha’yahu 61:10-63:9
Rebbetzin and B'erot Student's at Leah's wedding
This Haftorah teaches us new insights about how redemption is compared to a Jewish wedding. The B’erot wedding we attended last week surely gave us a taste of the ingathering of the exiles and the final redemption. So much Simcha (joy) was generated that we could have warmed a castle with our dancing energy. I have been reviving the custom to dance with branches of myrtles at B’erot weddings in the style of Rabbi Yehudah son of Elai who would take a myrtle branch and dance before the bride and say “The bride is beautiful and kind” (Babylonian Talmud, Ketuvot 17a). The evergreen myrtle has been a sign of success for married life since days bygone. The custom to use myrtle at weddings is not only because it symbolizes freshness and true love between the couple, has heating properties and a pleasant fragrance, but moreover because the myrtle is a symbol of teshuvah and transformation and thus a fitting centerpiece at weddings where the couple are transformed to a new existence. 
May we all merit to experience the unfolding of the prophecy of this haftorah and allow ourselves to be wed to Hashem in the greatest sense!
Please speed up redemption by opening your hearts and donating generously to our midrasha who open its doors to so many spiritual thirsting women with no means to support themselves while embracing Torah and Transformation.
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Rosh Hashana and Redemption
The last haftorah we read before Rosh Hashana is the climax of the seven week series on redemption. In this final presentation, Hashem proclaims His personal return to the Jewish people. This reflects the feeling of Rosh Hashana when we raise ourselves up from the fallen darkness of exile, to once again face the King of Kings. Rosh Hashana celebrates the creation of Man and Woman. This is the time to contemplate whether we are living up to the purpose for which we were originally created. Hashem originally created us as perfect vessels for His light to shine through, within the radiance of His Garden. In Elul, we work on becoming a pure vessel, ready to be filled with Hashem’s life-giving light on Rosh Hashana. As we prepare for Rosh Hashana, we are inspired to work on our individual redemption, contemplating what our personal goals are, and the best way to reach them.

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Believe in Your Hidden Powers and Spiritual Grandeur!

Haftorat Ki Tavo
Yesha’yahu 60:1-22
Printable Version
As the sixth of the seven haftarot of consolation read between Tisha B’Av and Rosh Hashanah, this penultimate haftarah describes the unfolding of the light of redemption in glowing words. A vital part of the redemption process is to raise women to believe in themselves, their hidden powers and their spiritual grandeur. Baruch Hashem at Midreshet B’erot Bat Ayin we participate in this process. Read on to learn more about how women’s spirituality increases the light of the Shechinah and about the role of all of Ya’acov’s four wives keeping negative energies a bay from Israel. I bless us all to be freed from the threat of the negative forces so that we can fully experience the goodness and luminous glow of the Land, enjoying both its physical and spiritual fruits!

The Connection Between the Haftorah and the Torah Reading
The Glow of the Land
Haftorat Ki Tavo is like a bridge between the mourning of Tisha B’Av and the renewal of Rosh Hashanah. The haftarah, emphasizing Israel’s dazzling future, is an appropriate antidote for the drawn out curses, included in Parashat Ki Tavo. After having read about the devastating curses, resulting from the withdrawal of the Shechinah, because we blocked her light through immorality, the soaring glory that Yesha’yahu describes is especially touching and hopeful. It heralds the coming of renewed radiance and light shining from the Messianic glow. Although, today may be dark, tomorrow, G-d’s light will shine on His people!

The Light of the Shechina will Shine Forth
The images of light in our haftorah paint a stunning painting with soft luminous strokes. Our haftorah opens: “Arise, shine, for your light has dawned; the Presence of Hashem has shone upon you!” (Yesha’yahu 60:1). We sing an adaption of this verse in the Lecha Dodi song, Friday night, when we welcome the Shabbat Queen. At the end of the haftorah, Yesha’yahu returns to the light and dark imagery, and promises us that even the rules of nature will be suspended in our apocalyptic future. There will be no need for the sun or moon, because the everlasting light and glory of Hashem will shine directly upon Israel.

No Greater Good than Being Side By Side
“Lift up your eyes all around and see, they all have gathered, they have come to you; your sons shall come from afar, and your daughters shall be raised (תֵּאָמַנָה) on [their] side” (Yesha’yahu 60:4). Originally, Chava was created from Adam’s side, as I explain in my book, “Women at the Crossroads: A Woman’s Perspective on the Weekly Torah Portion,” page 4. The common understanding is that G-d created Chava from one of Adam’s ribs. However, a more accurate translation of the word “tzela” reveals that she was actually created from his side. Since Chava initiated the eating from the Tree of Knowledge, an imbalance was caused in the original equality of man and woman. She became dependant on him, and he ruled over her. (Bereishit 3:16). At the unfolding of the redemption, this imbalance will be repaired, as “your daughters shall be raised on the side [of your sons].” The numerical value of the Hebrew word for “side” צַד is 94. This equals the value of “mazal tov!” which literally means a good flow. It also equals hatov v’hametiv – “good and does good” (Benayahu ben Yehoyada, on Pessachim 50a).When woman’s light was reduced; it created a certain loneliness in man, in the part of himself which he was no longer able to share with her. Being alone for a man is called “lo tov – not good” in the Torah (Bereishit 2:18). The greatest good, therefore, is for man and woman to return to being side by side in the fullest sense so that the light of the Shechinah flows down without any blockages. This light is the crown, which the sun and moon will once again equally share during the upcoming redemption.

Raising the Woman to Believe in Herself
The Hebrew word translated “raised” in (Yesha’yahu 60:4) is תֵּאָמַנָה (teamana), related to emunah (faith). This word carries the meaning of raising someone else, like in the sense of raising children. In Megillat Esther 2:7 the same root “אֹמֵן” (omen) is used to describe that “Mordechai raised /nurtured Esther.” We can learn from here that Esther grew to her greatness, because Mordechai taught her to have faith in herself. As part of the geula (redemption) process, women need to evolve from low self-esteem, and learn to believe in themselves and the power of their hidden light. Just as Mordechai raised Esther, it is man’s role to elevate woman.

Enabling the Woman to Receive her Spiritual Lights Directly
Kabbalistically, woman had collapsed from a full stature of ten sefirot into the lowest sefira of malchut (Kingdom) as Sarah Yehudit Schneider explains in her Kabbalistic Writings on the Nature of the Masculine and the Feminine. Man, then, became in charge of the resources of woman’s “building fund.” He was entrusted with a special energy fund earmarked and designated for woman’s growth. It now became his responsibility to raise the woman to the point where she no longer relies on him to transmit her spiritual sustenance. Rather than being dependant on him for her spiritual lights, he enables her to receive them directly from their original source.

Facilitating Woman’s Spirituality Increases the Light of the Shechinah
On a practical level, this means that husband must facilitate his wife’s spiritual growth, by, for example teaching her Torah, or offering to do the dishes, so that she can learn or teach Torah. Helping his wife in this way would not be considered bitul Torah, (nullifying his responsibility to learn Torah). Therefore, we, women, do not need to feel guilty about accepting our husbands’ help, in order that we too get involved in Torah. On the contrary, we should be aware that when the man diapers babies, barbecues meat, or mops the floor in order to facilitate the spiritual pursuits of his wife, it actually speeds up the redemption and increases the light of the Shechinah by “raising daughters [wives] on [their] side.”

Elevating the Lowest of our Mothers
The end of the haftorah describes the mystical future elevation of every material: “Instead of copper I will bring gold, and instead of iron I will bring silver, and instead of wood, copper, and instead of stones, iron, and I will make your officers peace and your rulers righteousness” (Yesha’yahu 60:17). Rav Tzadok of Lublin, in Machshevot Charutz 8, notes that the Hebrew word for iron – בַּרְזֶל (barzel), is the acronym for the names of Ya’acov’s four wives: Bilhah, Rachel, Zilpah, and Leah. Note that in this acronym, the letters that refer to the maidservants are mentioned first. This foreshadows the future transformation taking place when the physical dimension will be raised up, and Hashem will be one and His name one. At that time, the spiritual world –Yud and Heh (Chachmah and Binah) will be completely unified with the physical realm – Vav and Heh (the six middle sefirot and Malchut). This implies that the highest will be come the lowest, and the lowest will become the highest, as is alluded to in our verse “in place of iron I will bring silver…”

Releasing the Iron Sparks of the Mothers
Iron is the hardest of all materials, representing the negative aspect and the power of Esau, about whom it states, “Upon your sword [made from iron] you shall live” (Bereishit 27:40). Yet, the source of all is the secret of the uppermost Mother. Nothing can exist without Hashem’s life-giving energy, keeping it alive. The only way to attain the hidden good inside the coarse, strong material of the element of iron is through teshuvah. King David brought the concept of teshuvah into the world. His birth was enabled by the accumulated efforts and sisterhood of the Mothers. Their hidden power of being willing to yield for one another transformed “the rock that the builders hated, to become the cornerstone” (Tehillim 118:22). David HaMelech alluded to this power of the Mothers in his Tehillim: “You shall break them [the enemies] with a rod of iron…” (Ibid. 2:9). The Hebrew word for breaking תְּרֹעֵם (teroem) comes from the word for blowing the shofar תְרוּעָה (teruah). Just as we blow the shofar on Rosh Hashana in order to chase away the negative forces (Satan), so does the energy of iron with it’s power of teshuvah have the power to overcome our enemies.

The Mothers are the Iron Lock of Israel
The four wives of Ya’acov are the iron lock of Israel, ensuring that no negative exterior force enters the holy nest of our people. Through the power of the mothers of the twelve tribes, the builders of the Jewish nation, we can overcome the negative extraneous forces (Rav Tzadok of Lublin, Drush for Rosh Hashana that falls on Shabbat). The mothers prevent any negative intruder from the outside, especially from the hand of Esau to penetrate and inject impurity within the children of Israel. The low maidservants Bilhah and Zilpah were instrumental in locking in and perpetuating the qualities of Rachel and Leah. Together, these holy mothers anchored the spiritual within the physical. Through complete selflessness, Bilhah assisted Rachel in overcoming jealousy and drawing down the Shechinah in holy union, and keeping it dwelling within Israel. Zilpah assisted Leah in her hidden work of prayer and praise. At redemption, when the lower is raised to become the higher, the slaves are redeemed, and the role of women emerges, revealing their hidden qualities. At that time, Bilhah & Zilpah will be included within our four foremothers. Some mothers have already begun to bless their daughters to become like Sarah, Rivka, Rachel, Leah, Bilhah and Zilpah! (Heard by Rebbetzin Esther Kitov).

May we all become a personal link in the iron chain of the mothers!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Comfort for the Bereaved Woman

Rebbetzin Chana Bracha with students on the Fig Hike

As the fifth of the seven haftarot of consolation read between Tisha B’Av and Rosh Hashanah, this haftarah of only ten verses, conveys a compact, powerful and comforting message for the single woman, the divorced, widowed and barren. It is actually my birthday haftorah, and I totally feel that this haftorah relates to me personally. After over ten years of infertility, Hashem comforted and blessed me with a second son, and afterwards with three beautiful granddaughters – ken yirbu!

Haftorat Ki Teitzei
Yesha’yahu 54:1-10
The Barren Woman Bursts Out in Song of Jubilation
The haftorah opens by comparing Israel to a barren woman, who is promised countless children. “Sing barren woman, you who did not bear; burst out into song and jubilate, you who have not experienced birth pangs… (Yesha’yahu 54:1). When I was 35 years old and my only son was 13, I had almost given up hope of ever expecting another child. Yet, at a routine checkup, my gynecologist brought up the subject of fertility. I told her my story, and after we both shed tears together in her office, she gave me new hope. I remember when I received the good news that I was finally pregnant. How I had waited, hoped and prayed for this moment. I felt exactly like the barren woman described in our haftorah. I felt like bursting forth in a proclamation to the whole world: I am pregnant!!!! I AM PREGNANT! After all these years! It was unbelievable. All I wanted to do was to publicize the miracle.

The Barren, Divorced and Widowed
During our long exile, Israel is compared not only to a barren woman, but also to a widow who lost her husband, and to a woman whose husband left her, abandoned and forlorn. “For, like a wife who is deserted and distressed in spirit has Hashem called you, and a wife of one’s youth who was rejected, said your G-d (Ibid.6). The prophet assures all these bereaved women, that G‑d has not forsaken them. Although He has momentarily hid His countenance from them, He will gather them from their exiles with great mercy. I was trying to understand the metaphorical meaning of each of these deprived women. Which aspect of our thorny distressing exile do they each represent? The barren woman seems to allude to the lack of fertility of the land, and the freeze on the development of our vibrant Jewish neighborhoods. When the communities of Israel will become like a mother blessed with many children, every new-married couple will easily find affordable housing. We still await the time when Eretz Yisrael will produce even more wormless organic fruits, as there is no greater sign of the coming redemption than when the Land of Israel brings forth fruits in abundance (Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 98a).

The widowed woman, I believe, refers to the suffering of the terrorism in Israel. The prophet promises: “Fear not…the disgrace of your widowhood, you shall no longer remember (Yesha’yahu 54:4). When women are brutally murdered, and children are left orphans, we ask ourselves “where is Hashem? Why does He not protect and defend His people from this disgrace and terrible affliction?” Finally, the divorced woman seems to refer to the different divisions within Jewry: black hats, knitted kipot, secular, and settlers. Like “divorce”, the word “disengagement” signifies this division that includes the expulsion from Gush Katif and part of Shomron, the separation and estrangement of some Diaspora Jewry from the Land of Israel, the division of the Jewish people as a whole from the Torah lifestyle.

The Greatest Building Defrost
Our haftorah of consolation comforts the barren woman, who is told to enlarge the size of her tent to make room for all the children she will have. “Widen the place of your tent, and let them stretch forth the curtains of your habitations, do not spare; lengthen your cords and strengthen your stakes; for you shall spread out right and left, and your seed shall inherit nations and settle desolate cities” (Ibid. 2-3). These prophetic verses don’t exactly suit our current political climate. Nonetheless, the hidden agenda of all the political figures who were trying to impose a building freeze on Israel, was to prevent the redemption of Tzion and the fulfillment of its prophecies. Likewise is the continued demolition of Jewish homes in Yehuda and Shomron (Judea and Samaria). The United States, seemingly our ally, descends from Esav, and like him, is disguised in the veil of a cultured, civilized, modernity. Yet, behind the mask of friendliness hides the selfish greediness of a power-monger, promulgating individual advancement, at the expense of facilitating a dwelling place for the G-d of Israel. In spite of the resistance from the majority of the world, the proportions of the Jewish redemption will be so overwhelming that Eretz Yisrael won’t be capable of containing it. Yerushalayim will be flooded with newly arrived residents, and the surrounding areas will speedily overflow. Rabbi Dovid Siegel explains that even after the entire Judean hills will be saturated with newly sprouted neighborhoods, the Jewish aliyah will continue. The new wave of emerging Jews will take possession of the entire land of Israel and settle it. The return will be so encompassing that even these broadened quarters will not suffice.

Forget the Shame!
In order for all these blessings of redemption to take place, we all need to return to Hashem in perfect faith. However, the feeling of hidden embarrassment about our dark past often prevents and blocks us from reuniting with Hashem in the deepest way. We ask ourselves, “How will we ever overcome our past transgressions and establish an everlasting bond with Hashem?” Hashem responds, “Fear not, for you shall not be ashamed, and be not embarrassed, for you shall not be put to shame; for the shame of your youth you shall forget…” (Ibid. 4). Malbim explains that all the disgrace of exile will be totally forgotten, both our personal embarrassment for having acted immorally (תֵבוֹשִׁי), as well as the shame received from others (תִּכָּלְמִי). Now, during the month of Elul, Hashem is in the field, ready to welcome us back to His holy palace, even if we have dirty feet, as long as we brush off the mud. No matter what kind of murky past we leave behind us, Hashem is waiting for us to start anew, as a pure vessel for His blessings.

The Remarriage and Birth of Redemption
During the redemption, Hashem will finally gather His beloved people back, and renew His loving relationship with us, just like when we were His youthful bride. “I forsook you for a brief moment, but with great compassion I will gather you in” (Ibid. 7). My dear friend, whose husband was murdered in a terrorist attack, never allowed herself to despair, but always radiated joy and hope. This year, I happily participated in her remarriage. Another close friend who had been an aguna for many years, yet never allowed herself to become bitter, is now engaged to a wonderful loving man. All these examples of personal redemption are signs of the upcoming redemption of the congregation of Israel. “For the mountains shall depart and the hills be removed, but My faithful love shall not depart from you, neither shall the covenant of My peace be removed,” says Hashem, Who has compassion upon you (ibid. 10). Even if the mountains move and the hills are shaken, G-d’s covenant with Israel will stand firm. Rashi explains that the mountains refer to our Patriarchs and the hills to our Matriarchs. The merit of our Mother Sarah was so great that when G-d granted her a child, He blessed together with her all barren women, as well (Rashi, Bereishit 21:6). Yet, Hashem implores us to strengthen our emunah that even if the merits of our fathers and mothers will cease, Hashem’s loving/kindness to us will be everlasting. When I gave birth to my second son, I prayed not only for other women who struggle with infertility like me. I told myself, “Don’t pray only for the barren women, but pray for all of Israel. For our long exile can be compared to a childless woman, and a long and difficult labor.” Join me today in my prayer and blessing that all single women will find their soul-mate, all the divorced and widowed will remarry, and that all childless women will bear fruit! May G-d bring miracles to our nation the way He performed miracles for me, and may we give birth to complete redemption as speedily as I gave birth to my precious baby!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Tapping into Hashem’s Comforting Energy

Haftorat Shoftim
Yesha’yahu 51:12 - 52:12
Printable Version

Haftarat Shoftim, the fourth of the seven “haftarot of consolation” read between Tisha B’Av and Rosh Hashana, opens with G‑d’s promise: “I, myself am the One that comforts you!” (Yesha’yahu 51:12). Whatever hardship we have experienced in our personal life and as a people, Hashem’s comforting energy is always near, if only we tap into it. This haftorah really strengthened my emunah, I hope reading this will strengthen your emunah too!

The Haftorah’s Connection to the Parashah – Fear No-One but Hashem!
Rebbetzin Chana Bracha at this year's Grape Festival
The theme of this week’s Torah reading centers around the fact that Israel has many judges, yet, there is only one true Judge: G-d. The role of the judge is to bring Israel to true fear of G-d, by facilitating the keeping of His precepts. True fear of G-d results from removing fear of anything but Hashem. The beginning of the haftorah teaches us that the only One to fear is Hashem, He is our only true comfort, and the source of our life. “Who are you that you should fear Man who must die? ...have you forgotten Hashem your Creator, that stretched forth the heavens, and laid the foundations of the earth, and are you afraid continually every day because of the fury of the oppressor…?” (Yesha’yahu 51:12-13). Malbim distinguishes between the word יראה, yirah (awe) and the word פחד, pachad (afraid). The former is a fear of something external, whereas the latter is a continual state of internal fright, without being aware of the source of one’s fear.

Internal and External Fear
Interestingly, the first word for fear in our haftorah is written in the feminine form וַתִּירְאִי from יראה (awe), whereas the word for being afraid continually is written in the masculine form וַתְּפַחֵד from פחד (afraid). I was thinking of how external, occasional fear could possibly be more feminine than the constant fright of an unknown source. I came up with the possibility that women have greater innate emunah (faith), and therefore, are less prone to constant inner fright. Although women are stereotyped to be more fearful than men, it could be that actually women are more aware of their fears, whereas men suffer a deep unconscious fear. Women are more involved in self-development and awareness. By identifying possible fears and traumas, these fears are externalized, as a step towards removing them. I would like to call on my readers to give your opinion regarding the fears of men and women respectively.

The Garments of Jerusalem
“Wake up! Wake up! Dress up in your strength, Tzion! Put on your beautiful garments Jerusalem the Holy City… 2. Shake yourselves from the dust, arise, and sit down, Jerusalem; free yourself from the bands of your neck, captive daughter of Tzion” (Yesha’yahu 52:1-2). Part of the Kabbalat Shabbat song Lecha Dodi is taken from these two verses of our haftorah: הִתְנַעֲרִי מֵעָפָר קוּמִי. לִבְשִׁי בִּגְדֵי תִפְאַרְתֵּךְ עַמִּי –”Shake off yourselves from the dust, arise! Dress up in the garments of the splendor of my people!” We welcome the Shechina Friday night, by arousing ourselves and the entire Jewish people to shake off the dust of the mundane reality of the week, in order that we, our community, and the whole world will be able to get dressed up in the spiritual Shabbat clothes of splendor. Just as we prepare for Shabbat every Friday, now, during the messianic era, we need to prepare for the great celebration of Mashiach, when all reality will become Shabbat. It reminds me of a giant wedding hall being cleaned spotless and decorated for a very special wedding. Just as it is mainly the woman of the home who is involved in the Shabbat preparations, women have the key role in preparing for the world’s cosmic Shabbat, through self-development and spiritual healing. In order to become ready to dress up in our Neshama yetera – higher Shabbat/redemption level of consciousness, we must remove any blockages from our soul. We need to ask ourselves, “What is the dust we would like to shake off ourselves?” Which dust in my life clogs up my vessel from being a pure channel to receive Hashem’s presence? Which stains of dust on the windows of my soul prevent me from perceiving Hashem with full consciousness and clarity? As we sweep and mop on Friday afternoons, let us work mentally on shaking off any fear, stress, anger, grudge and residue of sadness that blocks our soul from fully shining.

The Inner and Outer Garments of Israel
Getting ready for the banquet of Mashiach entails two stages, as reflected in our Shabbat preparation. In honor of Shabbat, we first take a shower and then dress up in our Shabbat clothes. Similarly, in the messianic era, only after having shaken off our spiritual dust, are we ready to wear our garments of holiness. We need to heal our childhood wounds and remove negative emotions and midot (character-traits), in order to illuminate the world with the light of our soul. Malbim distinguishes between the inner and outer garments of Jerusalem. “Tzion” referring to the City of David needs to dress up in her inner strength: The Temple, the Sanhedrin and Kingdom. However, “Yerushalayim,” which refers to the general city, will wear the external garments of wealth and success. Tzion and Yerushalayim are the reflections of the inner and outer reality of each individual Jew. Thoughts, speech and action are the garments of our soul. By perfecting these inner garments, we become a pure channel for Hashem’s shefa (abundance) to receive the outer garments of wealth and success. Our spiritual workout consists of developing a positive outlook – giving the benefit of the doubt, really working on cleaning our speech from negativity and gossip, and increasing acts and kindness. To the extent that we have perfected the inner garments of actions, speech and thoughts, we will be able to dress up in the outer garments of blessings and prosperity which Hashem constantly causes to flow down to us. When our outer garments match our inner garments, our unity with Hashem can never again be broken.

Everlasting Return
The haftorah concludes with the promise that the Jewish people will never have to leave Jerusalem in a rush, because Hashem will return to Tzion and protect us both from the front and the rear. (Ibid. 52:11-12) Rabbi Dovid Siegel explains this guarantee Hashem is giving Israel through a parable. A king became enraged at his queen, and banished her from the palace. After some period of time, he reconsidered his actions and informed her of his intentions to remarry her. She consented on the condition that he doubles the amount of her ketubah (the husband’s financial responsibilities to his wife). This is a parable for the relationship between Hashem and the Jewish people. Our initial relationship with Hashem was established when accepting the Torah on Mount Sinai. At that time, Hashem revealed Himself to His nation and proclaimed, “I am your Hashem.” Afterwards, the Jewish people’s behavior was so inexcusable that Hashem rejected us and exiled us from Tzion. Yet, at the time of redemption, Hashem desires to reunite with Israel. In spite of our failure in the previous relationship, Hashem promises to increase His revelations which will guarantee an everlasting relationship with His beloved people (Yalkut Shimoni 474).

Perceiving Hashem with Renewed Clarity
At the close of the haftorah, Hashem conveys his incredible new commitment to us: “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that brings good tidings of peace; proclaiming goodness and salvation, saying to Tzion, your G-d has come to reign! The voice of the on-lookers is heard, they raise their voice in unison and singing, for they shall see eye to eye, Hashem returning to Tzion” (Yesha’yahu 52:7-8). Our Sages explain that until this point it was virtually impossible to behold Hashem’s presence with perfect clarity. However, in the era of Mashiach, all constraints will be removed. The Ba’al Haturim on his commentary to Bemidbar 14:14 echoes this concept and contrasts Israel’s experience at Mt. Sinai to that of the Messianic era. When Hashem began this relationship and proclaimed, “I am your Hashem,” the revelation was so overwhelming that we were incapable of maintaining our consciousness throughout the experience. In fact, our Sages (Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 88b) reveal that we were miraculously revived after each of the commandments. However, in the era of Mashiach, the Jewish people’s spiritual capacity will be greatly increased and we will be capable of viewing Hashem with total clarity. This is the meaning of the words of this week’s haftorah: “For they shall see eye to eye, Hashem returning to Tzion.” Hashem’s return will be so tangible that we will merit to sense His presence with perfect clarity, and so to speak, look Hashem directly in the eye.

Double-Sided Eternal Relationship
It was our spiritual dust that prevented us from fully absorbing Hashem’s revelation even at Mount Sinai when He proclaimed, “ אָנֹכִי – I am your Hashem” (Shemot 20:2). However, the suffering of exile together with our spiritual Shabbat cleaning prepares us to absorb the new revelations in their fullest form. Therefore, during the Messianic era, the Jewish people will be perfectly prepared to receive Hashem’s presence with complete consciousness. No longer will our relationship with Hashem be one-sided – אָנֹכִי, as during Matan Torah. Our haftorah opens with a double expression of Hashem’s name – אָנֹכִי אָנֹכִי. With this expression, “I” and “Myself” Hashem informs us that the upcoming relationship will be double sided. It reflects both Hashem’s perfect revelation, as well as the Jewish people’s total reception. The renewed revelations will establish an everlasting bond between Hashem and His people. Hashem’s “eye” – the degree of His revelation, and our “eye” – our perception of Hashem’s presence, will finally match. We will then have the capacity to enjoy the ultimate everlasting relationship with our true Partner and Father above!