Wednesday, January 4, 2012

“Shema Yisrael” – Unifying at the heart

Dear Friends,
This week is also called Shabbat Chazak, one of the four (the fifth time is on Simchat Torah) Shabbats when we complete one of the books of the Torah, whereupon the entire congregation rises and together calls out “Chazak Chazak V’nitchazaik”– “Strength! Strength! Let us strengthen ourselves!” Just as we have completed one of the books of the Torah, G-d will help us be strong and complete all of the loose ends of our lives, physically and spiritually. Hashem blessed me with a meditation to help us get in touch with our innate אַהָבַת יִשְרָאֶל –Ahavat Yisrael – Love of all Jews, in order to be able to truly unify Hashem in the world when reciting the שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל – Shema Yisrael.

With Blessings of the Torah and the Land,
Chana Bracha Siegelbaum


Click here to read "The Bridge Between Life and Death" - Rebbetzin's commentary on Haftorat Vayechi

Parasha Meditation Vayechi
Bereishit 47:28 - 50:26
This parasha concluding the book of Bereishit culminates with the blessings that Ya'acov gave to his children. A blessing is a transfer of energy. In order to transmit Hashem's blessing to another person, the blesser and the blessed need to be united, both with each other and with Hashem. This is why in preparation for blessing his offspring, Ya'acov dramatically entreated his sons: “Join together and I will tell you what will happen at the end of days”.[1] The ultimate blessing that Ya'acov desired to impart is the blessing of the final redemption. Also in order to reach the reality of the days of Mashiach, complete unity is needed.[2] Just as the first exile to Egypt came about because of the strife between Yosef and his brothers, so also the destruction of the Temple happened through unwarranted hatred among Jews. In order to prepare ourselves for the redemption, we need to train ourselves to really love and unity with our fellow-Jews.

"Redemption will not come until every prutah (the smallest denomination of coin) is gone from the pocket."[3] Rabbi Moshe Teitelbaum, the first Satmar Rebbe, noted that the word prutah shares the same root as the word pratiut – privacy. He explains that Mashiach can’t come until every pratiut – every self-indulgent detail that a person worries about for himself rather than worrying about his fellow man, is dispensed with. When each of us will worry about others the way we worry about ourselves, this will unite us, and we will merit the final redemption.

After imploring his children to unify with the greatest possible love for one another, Ya'acov urged them to unify the name of G-d. "According to tradition, at the time when Ya'acov our father assembled his sons in Egypt, at his death-bed, he commanded and spurred them on in the unification of the name of G-d, that they should follow the path of Hashem that Avraham and Yitzchak his father walked. He asked them and said, 'My sons, perhaps someone among you is flawed and does not stand with me in the Unification of the Name?' They all answered and said, 'Hear Israel Hashem our G-d Hashem is One' – that is, 'Hear from us, our father Israel, Hashem our G-d Hashem is one'. The old man answered 'Blessed be the Name of the Glory of His Kingship for ever and ever!' And this is why all Israel has the custom of repeating the expression of the praise used by Israel when he was an old man after this verse".[4]

"Gather yourselves together, and hear, your sons of Ya'acov, listen to Yisrael your father." [5] The Shlah HaKodesh connects the unification with Hashem expressed in the recital of Shema with the unification between the children of Israel. He asks, why did it state "Gather" immediately after it had stated "join together"?[6] The Shlah explains that "Join together" refers to physical gathering, while "gather yourselves together" refers to spiritual gathering, which implies removal of jealousy, hatred and competition from the heart. Without becoming as one person with one soul it is impossible to receive unification with Hashem. Hashem only dwells on us, when Israel are unified in the heart, without jealousy, like the ministering angels, about whom it states, "they all love…they all accept the yoke of the heavenly Kingdom upon themselves."[7] Therefore, everyone must unify his heart with the entire congregation of Israel, as if speaking to every descendant of Israel, "Hear o Israel"– we are all united in love, without hatred and jealousy – and now we receive the unity of our G-d and recite, "Hashem our G-d, Hashem is One."[8] Here follows a meditation to help us get in touch with our innate love for all of Israel and unify with Hashem.

Before starting this meditation, you may want to look intensely at the three Hebrew letters that make up the word Hebrew word "Shema", until these letters are imprinted in your mind's eye. Sit comfortably in your chair take several deep breaths and relax. Breathe in Hashem’s life-giving light, breath out any tension from all the limbs of your body, starting with your head and finishing with your feet. Continue following your breath until you feel totally relaxed. Breathe in "She" – the fire of Shin, breathe out "Mah" the water of Mem. Continue four more breaths and imagine that you unify fire and water with your inhalation and exhalation. The last letter of the word "Shema" is the letter Ayin which means eye. Imagine you take the fire of the Shin and the water of the Mem and unite them inside the Divine Eye of Ayin. (If it is easier for you, you may imagine a large eye instead of the letter Ayin.) Hold this visualization as you continue breathing softly.

Now empty your "Divine Eye" and place inside of the Ayin the person you love most in life. It can be your spouse if you are married, or a parent, a sibling, a very close relative or friend.

Imagine filling this beloved person with Hashem's light from head to toe, inside of your mind's eye. Get in touch with your own heart as you breathe, feel warmth softness from your heart and allow yourself to feel the love you have for the person you love most in life. Allow this love to spread within your entire body. How does it feel? Is it warm or soothing? A stable unwavering feeling or passionate feeling that comes in spurts? Are there any place within your body where you find it difficult to express your love? Breathe Hashem's light into the places of yourself where your love may be blocked. Then breathe in "She" – the fire of Shin, breathe out "Mah" the water of Mem. Continue four more breaths and imagine unifying fire and water through your inhalation and exhalation.

Now place inside of your Divine Ayin a person you have a difficult time with in life. It can be a child, a mother-in-law, a neighbor who has caused you trouble, or anyone with whom you have or have had a conflict. Imagine filling this person with Hashem's light from head to toe, inside of your mind's eye as you breathe. If you get stuck and find it difficult, try to remember that this person too is a child of G-d. Just as you love your children, or your parents love you, Hashem loves this person so very much, and desires to fill him or her with Divine light. When you have completed filling this person with imaginary light – as if you paint every part of him or her with infinite Divine light – return to focus on yourself.

Is there any part of yourself that feels hatred, jealousy or competition with the person with who you have clashed? Locate any possible negative feeling towards this person inside of your body. Perhaps in the right side of your head, or in your shoulder or heart you feel a certain kind of resentment. Focus in on this feeling of resentment. What color does it have? What texture? Is it round or square dotted, spiked or smooth? Try to remove this resentment from your body into an imaginary basket outside of yourself. Now take an imaginary paintbrush of light and paint everything in the basket with Divine light, until the resentment dissipates. Now breathe in "She" – the fire of Shin, breathe out "Mah" the water of Mem. Continue four more breaths and imagine unifying fire and water through your inhalation and exhalation.

Now imagine that you are a drop of water within the great ocean of the Jewish people. Together with all of Israel, you are part of the great waves and with their frosty foam. Let go, let go, let go! Imagine yourself melting away and merging with that which is so much greater than yourself. Imagine yourself being just a drop of "Mah" riding in the waves. Now breathe in "Mah" the water of Mem, breathe out "Mah" the water of Mem. "Mah-Mah" "Mah-Mah" Continue four more breaths and imagine unifying yourself with all of Israel through your inhalation and exhalation. Get back in touch with the love you have for your most beloved person in life. Imagine expanding that love to include all of Israel, even those whose outlook or lifestyle is opposed to yours. We are all most beloved children of Hashem. When we unite like "one person with one heart"[9] then we can unite Hashem in the world. שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל הַשֵם אֱלֹקֵינוּ הַשֵם אֶחָד – "Shema Yisrael Hashem Elokeinu Hashem Echad" – Hear oh Yisrael, Hashem is our G-d, Hashem is One!"[10]


After the Holocaust, R. Yosef Kahaneman zt'l , the Ponevezhe Rav began looking for Jewish children who had survived the war. It was known that some of the children had ended up in churches and were being raised as Christians. The Rav encountered one church that denied the existence and presence of Jewish children within their midst... He was granted permission to enter the children's quarters to inspect for himself – when he entered he began calling out “Shema Yisrael” and instinctively many of the children raised their hands to cover their eyes and started calling out “mama! mama!”

The “Shema Yisrael” stems from the deepest level of the Jewish soul, the יְחִידָה – yechidah where all Jews are united with each other and Hashem. The gematria (numerical value) of אֶחָד – echad and אַהָבַה – ahava is identical, they are both thirteen. For this reason before in the introductory paragraph before the recital of Shema we pray for the love of Hashem and His unity, in the secret of “Unify our hearts to love and fear Your Name.”[11] Moreover, the section of love “And you shall love…” follows directly the Shema Yisrael verse. We thus find that the Shema Yisrael is sandwiched between "Love and Love."

With every recital of Shema, we bring down Hashem’s light upon ourselves and in the world. Believing that Hashem's Oneness, unites us all, and that all forces in the world are included in His Oneness, is our ultimate service of unifying Hashem. This emunah is our beacon of light through the dark times of our lives.

[1] Bereishit 49:1
[2] The Shlah HaKodesh, Parashat Vayechi, Derech Chaim, Tochachat Mussar
[3] Yalkut Shimoni Devarim, Chapter 32, Allusion 946
[4] Rambam, Laws of Recital of Shema 1:4
[5] Bereishit 49:2
[6] In the previous verse, Ibid. 1
[7] The Siddur, the paragraph preceding the Recital of Shema
[8] The Shlah HaKodesh, Mesechet Yoma, Derech Chaim, Tochachat Mussar
[9] Rashi, Shemot 19:2 explains that we reached this level at the giving of the Torah
[10] Devarim 6:4
[11] Ba’al Shem Tov on the Torah, Parashat Vaetchanan

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