Thursday, October 27, 2011

Resting in G-d's Ark

Parasha Meditation Noach
Bereishit 5:9-11:32

The word in Hebrew for ‘ark’ is ‘teivah’ which also means ‘word.’ ‘Come to the word,’ G-d is telling us. This is true all year long, but especially now, right after the holidays when we have been earnestly working on ourselves. If we practice now doing things right, it will be easy all year long!

Sit comfortably in your chair, close your eyes and take deep breaths several times. Breathe deeply and feel completely relaxed in all of the limbs of the body. After several minutes of relaxing breathing imagine that you face the turbulent sea. There are bright shining threatening waves as far as the eye can see. Each stormy wave “of the waters of Noach” represents another one of your worries. Worries about your place in the world, about parnassah (money), your health, your children your future…Visualize how each worry is whisking over you, almost drowning you, making you pant to be able to breathe.

Within the sea of your worries there is a light – a small space of peace. You hear the voice softly whispering into your ear ““Come to the ark.” בֹּא אֶל הַתֵּבָה “Come to the ark.” בֹּא אֶל הַתֵּבָה. Listen to the voice and enter into your personal ark. Now you can float safely above the waves of your worries. You are neither cold nor wet, just floating…. You are floating...floating allowing Hashem to steer the course. you breathe deeply and relax even more, knowing that all your worries will evaporate in your trusting that Hashem will steer you to secure shores.

From within your ark you feel the waves of the flood above and below you, while you are being safe, safe inside of your teivah – your word of Torah and Tefilah. You pray to Hashem, Hashem please save me!!!! Without you I will drown and perish. You feel Hashem’s presence and you experience how the waters purify the world and yourself. Imagine how each foamy wave washes over you and cleanses you from all of your worries.

Remember When the flood of worries tries to engulf you, have faith in G-d. Instead of drowning, you will be lifted above the water by the taivah, words of prayer and learning.
Feel b’Noach, at rest, in complete peace with yourself. Take a breath in as you imagine the sound “No”. Breathe out while you imagine the sound “Ach” Repeat five times then open your eyes.

Worries mundane matters are sometimes referred to as ‘the waters of Noach.’ In addition to the destruction, the flood also purified the world, and brought rest—noach—to G-d. So also there is inner purpose to the worries we experience that flood our lives. The worries are meant to force us into prayer and strengthen faith in G-d.

The story of the flood can be a positive one. The solitude, quiet and relative security on an ark guided totally by G-d’s hand could provide comfort. An ark differs from a boat in that it has no steering mechanisms. The word teivah, ark, is only used in the Torah in reference to Noah’s vessel and to the basket in which baby Moses was sent off onto the Nile. In both cases, the hope of humanity was set afloat with G-d alone to steer the course.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Shabbat Rosh Chodesh – A Sign of Geula!

Signs of Redemption in the B'erot Garden!
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! 

I want to bless all of us that during this month of Cheshvan, that we will be able to do the difficult inner work of spiritual and personal transformation, integrating the spiritual heights we experienced during the month of Tishrei. May we be able to translate the visions we received in Tishrei into reality, and let go of the blocks that prevent us from going forward in our lives. May we purify ourselves from the old that is no longer essential and allow this month to become the vessel to contain all of our new lights!

With blessings for digging deeply beyond the surface and getting rooted, Chodesh Tov!
Chana Bracha Siegelbaum

NEW!! Parshah Meditations from Rebbetzin Chana Bracha. Click here for Parsha Meditation Noach

Haftorat Parashat Noach
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 Cheshvan: Rectifying the Sense of Smell
ספר יצירה פרק ה משנה ט המליך אות נ' בריח וקשר לו כתר וצרפן זה בזה וצר בהם עקרב בעולם, וחשון בשנה, ודקין בנפש זכר ונקיבה:
“He made the letter nun king over Scent and He tied a crown to it and He combined one with another and with them He formed Scorpio in the Universe, Cheshvan in the Year, and the small intestine in the Soul, male and female” (Sefer Yetzirah 5:9).

A Vessel to hold the Lights
The month of Cheshvan serves as the vessel to hold all the lights of the many holidays we just celebrated during the month of Tishrei. This is why Cheshvan does not even have one minor holiday. During the month of Tishrei, we taste of the great Divine lights. In Cheshvan, even though the taste is gone, the fragrance still remains, just as the fragrance of our etrog remains long after Sukkoth. The month of Cheshvan serves as a channel that allows all the spiritual heights of Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, Sukkoth, and Simchat Torah to permeate the entire year. This is similar to the ritual of havdalah, where we partake of pleasant smelling spices/herbs in order to allow the lights of Shabbat to infuse the coming week with its lingering fragrance.

The Sense of Smell
Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburg explains that the word for the organ of the month: the intestines (dakin), derives from the word “minute” (dakah) or “particle” (dak). It implies the power to dissect into fine, refined parts. This is the process used to prepare the incense for the Temple. All of the sacrifices in the Temple service are meant to produce a satisfying aroma (rei'ach nichoach) and please the Divine sense of smell, which implies the Divine satisfaction with the service of His children. We read about the first expression of this Divine satisfaction during the month of Cheshvan, when Noach offered his sacrifice to G-d on the 28th of Cheshvan. It is the fats of the intestines that when offered on the altar produces the satisfying aroma for G-d. For this reason the intestines are connected with the sense of smell.

The Letter Nun
The letter of the month is nun. The first letter nun appears tall and barren, save for its thick root. The final nun appears completely barren, but for a root that grows deep under the surface, much like a scorpion whose tail is longer than its body. Following a rich harvesting of the fruits of our spiritual efforts, during the month of Cheshvan our focus turns inward toward our roots. In the same manner, the tree, relieved of the burden of its heavy fruit, delights in the return of the healing rain that follows the long dry summer season. In Tishrei we planted the seeds, and in Cheshvan, we wait for the rain to water the seeds. The holidays of Tishrei are the seeds of the entire year, and during Cheshvan we need to bring these seeds into fruition with our Torah learning. The first rain in Cheshvan is called yore, from the same root as the word Torah, as it is likened to our teachings that come from above.

May Hashem shower us with both physical and spiritual rain – both yore and Torah, and may we be worthy to receive!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Holy Women who Protect Israel

This is a piece about Simchat Torah with a short commentary on the haftorah of Bereishit from where I extrapolated the important role of women to protect the Jewish people from anything negative. Rav Tzadok of Lublin teaches that while it is the role of the men to establish the values of the Jewish people, it is the holy women who protect Israel from the negative influence, which constantly threaten to destroy us. Especially in our time we have many internal enemies and temptations, which attempt to destroy the holiness of Israel. One of these is drug addictions, including marihuana, which several frum men regularly use. As I wrote in the end of this commentary, women have the power and strength to clean out and remove these negative influences from our midst, so that we can “Sing to Hashem a new song” (Yesha’yahu 42:10) and herald the Final Redemption!

Haftorat Bereishit
Yesha’yahu 42:5-43:10 
The Connection between the Haftorah and the Torah Reading
I found it interesting that as we begin the Torah anew, between the lines of both the Torah reading and its Haftorah, the right of the people of Israel to the Land of Israel is highlighted. The haftorah of Parashat Bereishit opens by declaring Hashem the Creator of heaven and earth. This echoes the recount of Hashem’s creating the world in six days, described in our Torah portion. The commentaries express surprise that the Torah begins by recounting G-d’s creation of the world. They would have rather expected it to begin with the first mitzvah, since the Torah is a way of life, rather than a history book. Rashi explains that Hashem created the world for the sake of Israel. Therefore, in order to validate the children of Israel’s undisputable right to the Land of Israel, He began the Torah by clarifying how Hashem created the world, and therefore has the right to allot His land, to whomever He deems worthy of it (Rashi, Bereishit 1:1). The fact that Hashem is the creator of the world including the Land of Israel, and that He recorded repeatedly in the Torah, how He granted the Land of Israel as an inheritance to the children of Israel, should leave no opening for anyone to ever doubt the Jewish people’s univocal right to the Land of Israel.

The Purpose of Creation – Forging An Eternal Relationship with Hashem
This concept connects the Torah portion with its haftorah, which outlines the privileges and responsibilities of the Chosen nation. The prophet Yesha’yahu opens our haftorah with the following declaration, “So said G-d, Hashem, the Creator of the heavens and their expanse, He Who spread out the earth and what springs forth from it, He Who gives a soul to the people upon it and a spirit to those who walk there” (Yesha’yahu 42:5). Our Sages interpret this verse to refer specifically to those who live in Eretz Yisrael. They deduce that even a gentile maidservant who resides in the Land of Israel will merit everlasting life. In addition, even one who only passes through the Holy Land will merit an elevated spirit in Olam Habah (the World to Come) (Babylonian Talmud, Ketubot 111a).

The Land of Israel – Land of Eternal Relationship
Since the purpose of the entire Creation is that people recognize Hashem as the King, and establish an ongoing relationship with Him, Dovid Siegel explains, that specifically in the Land of Israel, do we have the privilege to experience a relationship with Hashem so intense that it becomes everlasting. Even visiting Eretz Yisrael produces intense feelings of closeness to Hashem that translate into eternity. Therefore, whoever merits to enter Eretz Yisrael fulfills Hashem's purpose in creation.

Hashem Burst Forth like a Woman in Labor
There is one feminine metaphor in our haftorah. Hashem compares Himself to a Woman in Labor. However, surprisingly, rather than describing the forthcoming birth, a masculine imagery of destruction is used, “I was silent from time immemorial; I am still, I restrain Myself. Now I will cry like a woman in travail; I will be gasp and pant together” (Yesha’yahu 42:14). Metzudat David explains that this verse describes how Hashem held His anger back and kept silent and for so long, about the injustice with which the nations have treated Israel. Yet, from now on, He will roar with the voice of a woman in labor, to destroy all the enemies of Israel. According to Radak, Hashem says, “I have held myself back for too long, but now I can no longer bear the suffering of my people. I will destroy all my enemies with my breath.” The continuation of this verse describes several natural catastrophes that Hashem will cause on all those “that trust in carved idols…” (Ibid. 15-17).

Destruction as Part of the Birthing Experience
All this destruction seems to be the very opposite of a nurturing mother giving birth to new life. However, as I’m getting ready to plant the winter garden, during the week following Sukkot, I recognize that the first step of nurturing new seedlings is to remove all the weeds. At this time of renewal, when we begin the Torah anew, we read about how the destruction of evil indeed is compared to the birth of good. Following the imagery of devastation, G‑d arouses the Jewish people to return to being a light unto the nations, by opening their deaf ears and blind eyes, “and bring those who sit in darkness out of prison" (Ibid 22).

Out of the Prison of Marihuana
Hashem compares Himself to a birthing woman, when He causes destruction for the sake of redeeming His people. Likewise, the nurturing feminine role includes gevurah – severity and strength, for the sake of protecting her beloved ones. In order to fully nurture her son, Sarah the first Jewess used her feminine strength to separate off the negative from within her midst. When we women use our feminine power to protect our households from negative influence, with the perseverance and outcry of a woman in labor, then with Hashem’s help, we will give birth to the renewed reality of our personal and communal redemption. For example, I know a frum woman whose husband had been smoking marihuana for many years. As the times passed, the effect of the drug became even more accentuated. The woman kept crying out to Hashem with the intensity of a woman in labor, to please uproot and remove this negativity from her beloved husband. In addition to her intense prayer, she also used the wisdom of women to take actions, and seek help to make her husband understand the negative effect of his actions. Baruch Hashem after many years of struggle, her husband is now in recovery. The process may be lengthy and challenging, yet the wife has steadfast emunah that Hashem will “bring out the prisoners from the prison, and them that sit in darkness out of prison” (Ibid.7).

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Divine Treasure

From this week's Sukkot Ingathering for Women Seminar
Women and Simchat Beit Hashoevah:
The Secret of the Otherworldly Happiness during the Water Sacrifices of Sukkoth
The Custom Pearl Necklace
Let me begin with a parable: Sarah who is almost five has her eye on a $1.99 custom made pearl-necklace. She counts her pennies and saves up; when she finally is able afford buying this necklace, she is so excited. She wears her new necklace day and night and it makes her feel big and special. Every night after the bed-time story her father asks her “do you love me?” “Of course I do,” “Then give me your pearls.” “Oh, Daddy, not my pearls! You can have princess, the white horse from my collection, the one with the pink tail. Remember, Daddy? The one you gave me. She’s my very favorite.” “That’s okay, Honey, Daddy loves you. Good night.”

Exchanging the Cheap for Genuine Treasures
About a week later when her Daddy comes in, Sarah is sitting on her bed with her chin trembling and one silent tear rolling down her cheek. “What’s the matter Sarah?” Sarah doesn’t say anything but lifts her little hand up to her father. When she opens it, there is her precious pearl necklace. With a little quiver, she finally says, “Here, Daddy, this is for you.” With tears gathering in his own eyes, Sarah’s father reaches out with one hand to take the dime store necklace, and with the other hand he reaches into his pocket and pulls out a blue velvet case with a strand of genuine pearls and gives them to Sarah. He had them the whole time ready for her. He was only waiting for her to give up the dime-store stuff so he could give her the genuine treasure. So it is, with our Heavenly Father. He is waiting for us to give up the cheap things in our lives so that He can give us beautiful treasures.

Simchat Beit Hashoevah – the Divine Treasure
Simchat Beit Hashoevah is such a Divine treasure as it states: “He who has not seen the rejoicing at the place of the water drawing has never seen rejoicing in his life. Following the first day of the holiday they would go down to the women’s courtyard and rectify a great rectification...” (Babylonian Talmud, Sukkah 51a).

Why was Simchat Beit Hashoevah the greatest joy ever? What is this great happiness connected specifically with water? Why did the water sacrifices take place in the women’s courtyard and what is the great rectification done through Simchat Beit Hashoevah?

Water Brings us to the Core
Water is the pure eternal substance, preceding even creation. Its purity is beyond time. When the earth was destroyed during the flood, the water remained. Water is compared to teshuvah, (Bereishit Rabah 2:4), as it states: “Pour out your heart like water” (Eichah 2:19). After Yom Kippur when we returned in complete teshuvah to G-d, and have liberated ourselves from our evil inclination, we pour water on the altar with complete exhilaration. This ritual brings us to the core of life, since 75 % of our being consists of water. As everything rises with the water, we now cleave to our root – the Life of the Universe, realizing that everything is from G-d – we have nothing of our own.

Unconditional Love
Water is a symbol of unconditional love. It is totally pure and simple in itself. Water embodies the great love Hashem showers upon us, every moment of the day. Although wine can become impure by contact with gentiles, water remains eternally pure for all mankind. It requires no effort in planting, reaping, processing, or purifying. Hashem accepts the water sacrifice, the same way He accepts the wine sacrifice, which does require all the processes of preparation. Since G-d’s love for us is unconditional, both wine and water are equal in His eyes.

Water & Relationship with Hashem
The connection between G-d and humanity is highlighted through the water with which G-d blesses the earth in response to our actions. G-d willed it that humanity complete and perfect creation by causing the water to flow. “Every plant of the field was not yet in the earth, and every herb of the field had not yet grown: for the Eternal G-d had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was no man to till the ground” (Bereishit 2:5). Rashi explains that the reason G-d had not yet brought down the rain, is because [hu]man was not yet created to awaken the rain with his prayer.

Water Responds to Music and Prayer
“On the festival [of Sukkoth] there is judgment over water...Why did the Torah say to pour water on the festival [of Sukkoth]? The Holy One said, pour before me water on the holiday [of Sukkoth] in order that the rain of the year will be blessed” (Babylonian Talmud, Rosh Hashana 16a). Why do the water sacrifices on Sukkoth cause the rain of the entire year to be blessed? The Japanese Dr. Masaru Emoto found that water responds to music, words and prayer. Water crystals are formed in correlation with the energy and consciousness transmitted to the water ( Perhaps this explains how the utter exhilaration during the water libations of Simchat Beith Hashoevah would effect the flow of water for the entire year.

Separating between the Male (Upper) and Female (Lower) Water
When Hashem originally separated the lower waters from the upper waters, the lower waters were crying because they had to be restrained and held back to the murmuring depths. Hashem, thereupon, promised them that through the sacrifices they would again become united with the upper waters (Bereishit Rabah 5:4). The separation between the upper and lower waters was the separation between male and female. This separation was only temporary, for at the water libation male and female is reunited as it states: “There is no drop that descends from above without the land rising towards it with double drops. What is the reason? ‘Deep calls to deep at the noise of your funnels etc.’ (Tehillim 42:8). Rabbi Levi said, the upper waters are male and the lower waters are female and these say to these, receive us, you are the creations of G-d and we are his messengers. They immediately receive them, as it states (Yesha’yahu 45:8), ‘Shower, O heavens, from above, and let the skies pour down righteousness; let the earth open,’ – like a female who opens for the male. ‘And let them bring forth salvation’ – they are fruitful and multiply ‘and let righteousness spring up also’ – this is the falling of rain. ‘I am Hashem I created it’ – for the sake of rectifying and inhabiting the world. (Bereishit Rabah 13:13)

Unifying Man and Women through Water
There is no greater happiness than the reunion of male and female after a long period of separation and restraint. This is the ultimate return to Hashem, the root of creation. It is interesting that it is specifically through the purifying waters of the mikveh, that husband and wife become reunited after the period of separation. Furthermore, it was at the well of living waters that many of the soul-mates of the Bible met.

Beyond the Boundaries of Creation
The union of male and female through the water- sacrifices extends to unify all opposites, such as water and fire. These two opposite substances are united in natural salt water. This union of divisions takes place at the Festival of Sukkoth, whose essence is the unification of all Israel in spite of their differences and contradictory elements. Shaking of the Lulav on Sukkoth embodies the unification of the different kinds of Jews represented in the four different parts of the Lulav. At the water-sacrifices there is a union of opposites: The waters from above meet the water from below, in a kiss so pleasant that no greater joy exists. This union dissolves the boundaries of separations, which occurred at Creation.

Unifying All Opposites through the Water Sacrifices
When G-d created the world, He had to constrain His own presence, so to speak, for the sake of the creation of the world. This constraint is called the tzimtzum. The creation process entails numerous separations like the separation of the light from darkness, and the separation of water from dry land. Specifically through water, which mysteriously existed at a primal stage of creation, it is possible to penetrate the tzimtzum and connect with the essence of G-d – the root of all existence. When we unify the opposite elements in creation, through the water sacrifices, we are able to reach beyond the tzimtzum – all the separations of Creation, and reach the original realm of Hashem from before Creation, wherein all contradictions are united. It is the reunification of opposites which enables us to rise beyond the tzimtzum. Opposites are only in the realm of our existence, but in the realm of G-d everything is unified.

The Ultimate Rise of Women with the Restrained Water
The reality that the female waters were held back and restrained fits in with women’s position in Jewish life. We women have to hold back our potential to a certain degree for the sake of the family. However, this restraint is not forever endless. Just as the lower waters were promised they would rise with the sacrifices, there will come a day when the diminished moon will grow to become the size of the sun (Yesha’yahu 30:26). At the time of redemption, when we will draw water out of the wells of salvation (Yesha’yahu 12:3), then women, who are compared to the moon, will rise to their full potential. Therefore, it is not by chance that the Court of the Women was chosen as the place for celebrating Simchat Beith Hashoevah. There the female (lower) waters were allowed to be drawn out and fully express themselves.

Woman’s Sukkah Dance is like Pouring Waters on the Altar of Redemption
When we women celebrate Simchat Beit Hashoevah, through Torah music and dance for women only, we express the beginning of this redemption process, as we emerge from our restraint for the sake of the mitzvah of Simchat Beit Hashoevah. Although the Temple is yet to be rebuilt and the water sacrifices to be reinstated, our joyous music and dancing is more than just a memorial to what once was and a practice for what will be. Our joyous celebrations are part of the redemption process of the lower waters beginning to rise, and therefore every step of our dance is a step on the way to pouring the waters of jubilation on the altar in the Temple, and celebrating our deepest connection with Hashem.

The Greatest Gift of Sharing Love, Unifies the Upper and Lower Waters
Simchat Beit Hashoevah is the greatest and most joyful gift ever. Since it is the simplest most essential substance, the water sacrifices demonstrate that we have absolutely no attachments to anything in the world, except Hashem. “Vanity of vanities all is vanity” (Koheleth 1:2). Hence, we are not trying to prove our self-worth by bringing animal and wine sacrifices, which require proper preparation and financial means. We have even detached ourselves from our individual Torah knowledge and wisdom, as we stand like naked before Hashem. We all experience total equality, when stripping off our outer layers of selves. Then we are in total tune with our inner common core consisting mainly of the primal substance of water. We are the receivers of the greatest gifts, when we share love and touch others as in the unification of the upper and the lower waters during Simchat Beit Hashoevah.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Yonah: A Parable for Your Soul

Rebbetzin Chana Bracha with B'erot students
at Ma'arat HaMachpela, Hevron this week
Dear Friends,
Hope you had a spirited prayerful Rosh Hashana, as we did here at Midreshet B'erot Bat Ayin, where more than twenty women prayed, learned, shared words of Torah, sang and crowned Hashem together. For some of the participants this was their first religious Rosh Hashana experience. Many of the women told me personally how moved and inspired they were from our Rosh Hashana celebration. 

Now we look forward to face Hashem and ourselves on Yom Kippur. For me, the highlight has always been the story of Yonah, followed by the neilah service. I have put together some deeper explanations on the book of Yonah for you, based on my teachings for many years. I hope my writing will help you connect to your Neshama (soul), as Yonah is a parable for our soul.

Shana Tovah U'Metukah!
May your year be good and sweet!
G’Mar Chatimah Tovah!
May you be sealed in the book of life, of fruitfulness and excitement, connectedness, love, youthfulness, health, fulfillment and shalom!
Chana Bracha

Haftorat Yonah

Yonah – A Lesson of Self-awareness
On Yom Kippur afternoon, after having been praying, fasting and elevating our souls, we gather to hear the mysterious story of Yonah, the fleeing prophet. Through this story, we are propelled to face Hashem in the deepest, innermost way, during the final neilah prayer – the peak of the Yom Kippur service. Much more than an intriguing children’s story, Yonah refers to the soul, dispatched by G-d into the body, in order to learn to find Hashem, even in the furthermost places (Zohar 2, 199a). Like Yonah, each one of us is sent down to earth in order to fulfill a specific mission, however, we spend most of our lives running away and hiding from our inner selves. Whether we are lead astray by fallen pleasures (represented by Tarshis –Alshich, Yonah 1:3), exterior voices of self-righteousness (“I knew it!” – Yonah 4:2), depression, or despair, (“take, please, my life from me” – Ibid. 3), we are all, eventually, called to face our innermost being, where the Divine resides. After having peeled off layer by layer of kelipot – exterior shells during the ten days of repentance, and the repeated Vidui (confession) sessions, we got to the core when the story of Yonah prompts us to face ourselves.

Who am I really and where am I Headed?
The four questions posed by the captain to Yonah, (1:8) are really four questions that envelop every Jew throughout the stages of our lives. מַה מְּלַאכְתְּךָ –“What is your work?” Is your task on earth to just work for the sake of receiving a salary, or to serve G-d in your particular way? מֵאַיִן תָּבוֹא –“Where do you come from?” Did you emanate only from a drop of semen, that you should cling to worldly pleasures, or are you a creation of G-d sent directly from the Garden of Eden? מָה אַרְצֶךָ – “What is your country?” Are you a mortal creature of earth, or an immortal being from the Land of Life? אֵי מִזֶּה עַם אָתָּה – “Of what people are you?” What is your responsibility as a Jew in the world? These verses are reflected in the voice of our conscience stirring from within, asking ourselves why we are here, why we were sent, and what we have done with our life? Through Yonah’s answers, “I am a Hebrew; and I fear Hashem the G-d of heaven, who has made the sea and the dry land” (ibid. 9), we recover a glimmer of purpose: I am here to fulfill the mission of Hashem.

From the Very Place of Escape We Ultimately Return to Hashem and Ourselves
On the journey towards ourselves, we often have to go down to the depths like Yonah. In chapter 1, the root ירד (going down) appears four times, twice in verse 2 and twice in verse 5. It is interesting to note that also the word for going to sleep – וַיֵּרָדַם derives from the root “to go down.” Sleep is the ultimate going down, the ultimate escape. However, within the ultimate depths of sleep is a kernel of closeness to G-d, since dreams are one sixtieths of prophesy (Babylonian Talmud, Berachot 57b). Though Yonah may be escaping the reality of life, he is ultimately bringing himself closer to his inner world, where nothing exists but Hashem. “One pursues something by running away from it” (Adam Phillips). It often happens in life, that our fears become self-fulfilling prophesies. Wherever we escape to, we are challenged with the very same issue from which we escaped. Yonah, as an escape artist, teaches us that just as you cannot run away from G-d, neither can you run away from others or from yourself. Yonah was running away from helping the gentiles to repent, yet through his very escape, he actually caused the sailors to convert (Rashi, Yonah 1:16). Until we have completed the tikun with a particular person, that archetype will re-appear in our lives, the more we try to avoid dealing this type of person.

Innate Fear of the Intimacy of Being Present
Ibn Ezra noticed that the word ברח – to escape, is usually connected with the word מפני. Only in the book of Yonah does it appear together with the word מִלִּפְנֵי. Yonah wasn’t just running away from Hashem, he was running away from being ' מִלִּפְנֵי ה – before/in the presence of Hashem (Yonah 1:3). The word Yonah also means dove. Our soul is like a bird trapped in the cage of our routine. Just as our habits trap and block us from self awareness, so does the desire to fly away/ flee, on the other end of the spectrum take us away from standing before G-d. The עמידה – the silent prayer, literarily “the standing,” is our central prayer, especially on Yom Kippur, when we are standing and acknowledging that we cannot fly. In our effort to stand in the presence of G-d, we recognize our fear to be present and our tendency to run away from becoming keenly aware of our dependency on Hashem’s constant grace. Like Yonah, we cannot bear to recognize that our existence hangs between life and death. We quickly move forward into the thought that everything will be alright without realizing that true emunah is accepting that even if it’s not going to be “alright,” it is still really alright. In a class with Aviva Zornberg many years ago, I learned that Yonah’s prayer from within the fish is actually an after-prayer, escaping from the presence of Hashem. Although Yonah is in mortal danger, and the fish could become his grave, unless Hashem saves him. Nevertheless, he prays in the past tense as if he was already saved. “I was in trouble and you saved me.” The merciful [Hashem] wants our heart” (Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 106b). He wants our attentiveness, readiness, intimacy, desire and even fear. Any kind of pain is really a wake up call, towards awareness of feeling and being in the present. Just as G-d prepared – וימן storm/fish /wind/castor-oil-plant/worm, for Yonah, He continues to insert experiences into human time, in order to make us feel this and that, so that we become really present in the moment.

Playing Mind Games with Hashem
The book of Yonah has exactly 48 verses which is the numerical value of the word מח – brain. There is an inner struggle in the book of Yonah between mind and heart. Rabbi Rivlin explains that the nature of prophets is to express emet – truth. The blessings of the haftorah from the prophets read:
ובנביאי האמת והצדק שרצה בדבריהם הנאמרים ...באמת
– Who has chosen their faithful [true] words… in the truth of the prophets of truth and justice…” With our minds we are trying to grasp truth and justice. Although not always possible, we try to make sense out of what we see in this world. Most of the times, we forget that our mind is so limited. Even the prophet is far from understanding the way Hashem runs His world. He can only see what Hashem allows him to see. Yonah is בן אמתי –the son of truth (Yonah 1:1). Yonah “disagreed” with G-d, maintaining the importance of truth rather than chesed. Chesed can be disturbing from the vantage point of justice, and teshuva isn’t really fair. Why should the wicked people be saved? Don’t they deserve to be punished? “They asked Prophecy, ‘What is the punishment of sinners?’ She told them, ‘The soul of the sinner will die.’ They asked the Holy One ‘What is the punishment of the sinner?’ He answered ‘Let him do teshuva and be atoned for’” (Jerusalem Talmud, Makot 7a). When Yonah recounts from the thirteen principles of Hashem’s mercy, he leaves out the word אֱמֶתֹ – emet – truth (Yonah 4:2). Yonah was insinuating that G-d was too kind to the people of Nineve. His mercy and forgiveness are not truly deserved by the people of Nineve, since their teshuva is not a true teshuva. The order of the words חנון ורחום – gracious and merciful – are inverted, perhaps in order to emphasize the word חנון which means מתנת חינם- a free gift. Just as Yonah seems to know better than Hashem what is just and fair, we, too, play mind games with Hashem. In truth, the gift of teshuva and atonement is never really fair, for who can claim to repent in the deepest and truest way?

Hashem’s Love Beyond Grasp and Discernment
Hashem touches Yonah’s heart through the growth of the castor oil plant, but it immediately wilts. He experiences on his own body how the world cannot continue through truth and judgment without chesed. Just as Yonah is unable to exist unprotected against the sun, so is the world unable to exist under G-d's justice alone. A veil between G-d's justice and His creation is necessary, in order that the creation will not be consumed by fire. This veil also conceals G-d's presence in the world, and makes it impossible for us to fully understand G-d's ways. Trying to grasp with our mind, rather than feeling and experiencing is a way of escaping Hashem. In our attempt to grasp Hashem’s ways, we are taking control rather than allowing ourselves to experience how we are being controlled by Hashem. On the Day of Atonement, it is encouraging to know how G-d will accept our teshuva even if it is far from being perfect. On Yom Kippur, G-d's unconditional love for us is manifested beyond reason. It is our job to receive and surrender, rather than trying to grasp Hashem’s ways. Perhaps, this is why the book of Yonah ends in a most absurd question: “…and should not I have pity on Nineveh, that great city, wherein are more than six-score thousand persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand, and also much cattle?” (Yonah 4:11).