Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Offering Up Our Will & Pleasure to the Divine

Rebbetzin Chana Bracha with her parents in Denmark at her father’s 85th birthday 

Dear Friends,
While celebrating my father’s 85th birthday in Denmark, I continue the theme of gift giving in my parasha meditation. The animal sacrifices are difficult to relate to, however I found personal meaning in them with the help of Rav Ginsburgh’s writings, relating the sacrifices to the human psyche. I hope this meditation will be helpful to refine our will and our desires for pleasures, as part of our spiritual preparation for Pesach!

Shabbat Shalom!
Chana Bracha Siegelbaum

Click here to read a special Torah from Rebbetzin Chana Bracha on "The Four Cups during the Seder and Our Four Mothers" 

Parasha Meditation Tzav
Vayikra 6:1-8:36
The book of Vayikra is difficult to relate to as it is all about the sacrifices, which we no longer keep. However, learning about the sacrifices becomes more meaningful, when we understand how each part of the sacrifices represents and rectifies parts of our psyche. Two parts of the animal sacrifice in the Temple, the “choice fats” – chelev – (חלב) and the “blood” – dam – (דם) were offered exclusively to Hashem. “It shall be a perpetual statute throughout your generations in all your dwellings, that you shall eat neither fat nor blood.”[1] This eternal prohibition pertains to both the person bringing the sacrifice and the Kohen, no-one may partake of the choice fat or the blood. Even today, we do not eat the “choice fats” or “blood” of the kosher animal. Rav Ginsburg explains how we learn from this that the very best must always be given to our Creator.[2]

The crown – keter – (כתר) of the Jewish soul includes the super-conscious “pleasure” – ta’anug – (תענוג) and the “will” – ratzon[רצון) [3) The conscious intellect and emotions are like the wheels of a machine, dependent on the vital energy of these two powers. Our “will” and “pleasure” are represented respectively by the “blood” and the “choice fats.” When a person brought a sacrifice, the blood of the slaughtered animal would first be sprinkled on the altar. This would culminate the process of offering up of one’s will to G-d. Afterwards, the Kohen would burn the choice fats on the altar. This would culminate the process of offering up one’s pleasure to G-d.

Hashem’s Divine Presence was most manifest within the Temple. During Temple times, the Divine service would actually reach into our unconscious and rectifying it. The process of the sacrifices thus ensured the righteousness of all those who came to the Temple. Without the Temple, we cannot access the far reaches of our unconsciousness. Yet, the prohibition to eat the “blood” and “choice fats” of any kosher animal still applies. Therefore, we must still rectify our will and pleasure to whatever extend we are able, and offer them up to Hashem.

This meditation is designed to help you get in touch with your will and desire for pleasure, in order to help us rectify them and give them over to Hashem. Make yourself comfortable and close your eyes. Take several long deep breaths and get in touch with your body sitting on the chair or cushion. Feel how your breath is actually Hashem breathing through you. Imagine how your breath brings oxygen to your bloodstream. Breathe into your arteries, and imagine how your blood circulation is invigorated by your conscious breathing. Allow your day to pass through you, visualize all the things you accomplished and all those things you didn’t yet get to. Get in touch with your will! What would you like to do the most if you were able? Imagine all the things you would want to do if you only could. Now take all of these things – the manifestations of your will and place them into a box, wrap it with beautiful wrapping paper and tie it with a ribbon. Imagine placing this box in your palms facing upwards offering your will to Hashem. Imagine the box being gone from your hands, and replaced by a different gift, which you now hold in your hand. Open it and behold Hashem’s gift to you. Hashem is giving you a refined will, all the things you always wanted to want are in this gift for you. Feel your appreciation of this gift Hashem is giving you!

Now take several relaxed breaths and allow your mind to wander to all the things you enjoy. Think about what gives you pleasure, it could be a gourmet meal, an intimate encounter with your beloved, a loving interaction with your child, a special honor or award you received. Take those things which give you pleasure and place them in a new box. Wrap it beautiful with a nice ribbon and again offer it up in your open palms to Hashem. Again your gift has been received by Hashem and replaced with His personal gift to you. You unwrap your spiritual gift and discover the spiritual pleasures that are your true pleasures. Unwrap each pleasure one by one and try to get in touch with the warmth, love and joy each of these spiritual pleasures give you. Gently tap your hands and feet on the ground and table before opening your eyes to face a new refined reality.

There are actually three points of the crown: (רצון) – “will”, (תענוג) – “pleasure” and (אמונה) –“Emunah” – simple faith. When a sheep is brought as a sacrifice, in addition to the “blood” and the “choice fats,” the rump, located near the tail of the sheep is given exclusively to Hashem.[4] This third part – the rump – is even fattier than the fat, i.e., it represents even more pleasure than pleasure. The Hebrew word for “rump” is אליה, begins with the letter alef (א). The first letter of the (חלב) – (“choice fats”) is chet (ח), and the first letter of “blood” (דם) is dalet (ד). Together these three letters spell out the word (אחד) – “One”. The two levels of pleasure and one level of will form our complete Oneness with Hashem. Perhaps we can say that by means of refining and offering our will and pleasure we can reach the level of emunah in the One and only G-d, to Whom all our desires and pleasures must be directed.

[1] Vayikra 3:17
http://www.inner.org/parshah/leviticus/tzav/E_012.php the rest of this parasha mediation is based loosely on this teaching
Likutei Torah, Parashat Nitzavim 49:3
See for example Vayikra 7:3.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

“On-line” With Hashem

Dear Friends,
This week we are starting the new book Vayikra which is all about Hashem’s calling to us, and our calling to serve Him. Parashat Vayikra coincides with Rosh Chodesh Nissan, in which we are supposed to work on our speech.[1] Perfecting speech corresponds essentially to refining our communication. In this parasha meditation I discuss communication between parents and children as an analogy and springboard for improved communication with Hashem. As we clean our cabinets for Pesach, let us work on cleaning our speech so we can emerge with improved communication in time for Pessach, which also means “ Pe -sach --the mouth speaks. By the time of the Seder, b”H, our improved communication skills will optimally bring us to the highest relationship with Hashem and our family.

Shabbat Shalom and Chodesh Tov!
With Blessings of the Torah and the Land
Chana Bracha Siegelbaum

Click here for Rebbetzin's commentary on the special haftorah reading for Rosh Chodesh

Plus click here to read Rebbetzin's teaching on the beautiful blessing for Nissan on blossoming trees

Parasha Meditation Vayikra
Vayikra 1:1- 5:26
This week, we begin reading the book of Vayikra – Leviticus. Literally the word vayikra means “He called.” “He called (vayikra) Moshe, and Hashem spoke with him from the Tent of Meeting saying.”[2] The last word “לֵאמֹר – saying” is extra. If Hashem spoke, obviously He would be “saying.” Whenever the extra word “saying” appears, it teaches us about the ongoing continuous prophecy applying to all future generations. Just as Hashem called Moshe, He continuously calls us throughout the times, for an ongoing relationship.

Calling – An Expression of Love
Rashi explains that a “calling” preceded all sayings and commands. It is an expression of love, an expression that the Ministering Angels use, as it said, “One called to the other”.[3] However, to the gentile prophets He revealed Himself with an expression of happenstance and uncleanness, as it said, “G-d happened upon Bilaam”.[4]

The Small Alef
Rashi[5] learns this from the small alef at the end of the word וַיִּקְרָא, making the alef stand out and emphasizing the difference between the word וַיִּקְרָא – He called, and the word וַיִּקְר – He happened upon. This small alef teaches us a big difference between the relationship of the Jewish people with Hashem, and that of the other nations of the world. The Jewish people are supposed to have an ongoing, continuously open relationship with G-d, whereas the relationship of the gentile nations to G-d is more of an on-and-off type.

On-line with Hashem
Rabbi Pinchas Winston makes the following analogy: This can be compared to using cable for internet versus a regular modem. When a person uses a modem to connect to the internet, he has to dial up the server, “get in,” and wait until all the inter-computer protocol has finished before being able to access everything from e-mail to websites. This takes time, is not always successful the first or second time. However, the beauty of cable is that you are always connected. The connection is continuous and therefore “getting in” is quick as is using the “Net.” There is never a moment that we are supposed to think that we are “off-line” from G-d, which is why halacha dictates levels of conduct and modesty even in the most private of places and moments. However, there is a difference between this analogy and true relationships. Whereas, keeping the lines of communication constantly open between two computers takes very little effort on our part, just maintaining an ongoing, upbeat and loving relationship with another human being requires a tremendous and continuous act of will; how much more so with G-d!

The Mother’s Calling
The relationship between children and parents is a great practice for having an ongoing relationship with Hashem. A dear friend came crying to me, her son had called her when she was in a meeting, and when she tried to return his call, no one picked up. She thought that perhaps they don’t hear the phone, (which had happened beforehand), so she continued to call again and again, frustrated that no-one picked up. When her son finally called her back, he reproached her, “Why did you continue calling and calling, didn’t you realize that when no-one picked up, that it wasn’t a good time to call. By calling so much, you were disturbing the children from going to sleep!”

Off-line with their Mother
My friend couldn’t believe her ears, “I would never do this to my mother or mother-in-law” she told me. “First of all I would never let them call again and again if I was home, even if it wasn’t a convenient time for me to talk, I would certainly pick up the phone and let her know that I’m sorry I can’t talk now, but I would call back as soon as I could.” She explained. “This way I would save my dear mother or mother-in-law from the frustration of having to repeat calling without anyone picking up. Not only did my children, not pick up, they moreover had the nerve to reproach me for keeping calling.” This mother felt hurt because, her children chose to be “off-line” from communicating with her. It is painful when we reach out and are not met, but rather being rejected. I told her, to embrace the pain, and just sit with it, trying to connect with the pain of the Shechina (Divine indwelling presence). When our Divine Mother calls us continuously do we pick up the receiver? Or do we let Her call and call? Hashem constantly reaches out to us, but we often chose to be “off-line”. We can learn from this incident to be more attentive to the call of the Shechina, whether through the difficulties we experience, or through becoming more aware and recognizing the Divine Supervision in our lives. Let us decide to pick up every time Hashem calls!

This meditation is not going to be limited to when you sit down and take some deep breaths. This meditation also applies when you walk on the way, work in your kitchen or in the office, when you feed your children, when you clean the house, and prepare for Pesach etc. Whenever you are happy and whenever you are sad, always remember to stay “on-line” with Hashem. Whenever, it is hard, imagine the oneness – the small alef, from the word Vayikra always at your side, always calling you back to be close. When we are continuously “on-line” with Hashem we can learn to experience all the difficulties Hashem sends as a mirror to learn where we can improve ourselves to get even closer and strengthen our relationship with Hashem. When we are “on-line” with Hashem we learn to accept, realizing that everything is a gift, and there is never a moment, or an incidence, which should make us upset.

The reduced alef also hints at the fact that Moshe humbled himself by making himself small. He was reluctant to record the word vayikra in the Torah, indicating Hashem’s special relationship with him. In his humility, he did not want to be distinguished from the nations with whom Hashem relates in an off and on relationship, indicated by the word vayiker.[6]

A third interpretation of the small alef is to teach us that as great as Hashem’s call to Moshe was, it was still incomplete. Perfect “on-line” communication can only take place when the Shechina will dwell in its permanent home – the Beith Hamikdash in Yerushalayim. It is impossible to attain the highest kind of communication with Hashem on foreign soil, outside Eretz Yisrael – the Holy Land, in a tent like dwelling-place erected only temporarily for Hashem. Therefore, the small alef illustrates that the ultimate goal has yet to be achieved, may it be soon!

[1] Bnei Yissaschar, Article 1 on the month of Nissan
Vayikra 1:1
Yeshayahu 6:3
Bamidbar 23:4, 23: 16
Rashi, Vayikra 1:1
Vayikra 23:4, and 23:16

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Learning to Give

Dear Friends,
Purim at B’erot was as every year such a heart opening experience, with a great balance of Torah, play and prayer, not to mention the delicious feast!

Now it’s time to get ready for Pesach, and clear our energy fields from all the extras. This is a perfect time to work on letting go of attachments to material things, and sharing our stuff with people we love. This week’s parasha meditation helps us to learn how to give with generous spirit and open heart. Wishing you all happy giving, and a joyful Pesach preparation! 

Save the Dates:
After Pesach starting Sunday April 29, I will offer a 3 week EmunaHealing webinar Sundays from noon-2:00 PM EST (Israel 7:00-9:00 PM). 
Click here if you are interested in signing up. 
In addition I will be available for private EmunaHealing sessions right after Pesach
via Skype or Phone.

With Blessings of the Torah and the Land
Chana Bracha Siegelbaum 

Click here to read Rebbetzin's commentary to this week's special haftorah for Shabbat Parah

Parasha Meditation Vayakhel-Pekudei
Shemot 35:1- 40:38
Moshe’s fundraising for the Mishkan (Tabernacle) was easy. All the Jewish people brought enthusiastically donations of materials for the Mishkan . “They came, everyone whose heart lifted him up, and everyone whose spirit volunteered him, and they brought Hashem’s offering for the Tent of Meeting, and for all its service and for the holy garments.”[1] The verse mentions two different attitudes with which people gave, there were the kind of person “whose heart lifted him,” and the kind “whose spirit volunteered him.”

Whereas Ramban holds that the wise people were lifted by their heart to know how to do the work for the Mishkan,[2] Malbim explains that the heart is the exterior vessel for the spirit – רוּח. The spirit raises images from the depth of the soul and reveals them upon the face of the heart. Whereas the spirit is an internal integral part of the soul, the heart is its exterior ruling power, through which Free Choice is expressed.[3]

There are people whose spirit is filled with good images and volunteerism, yet their heart still do not chose to be generous, because of their love of money. There are others, whose spirit does not volunteer them, yet their heart is generous and loves to give because money is not important to them. Rabbi Gavriel Goldfeder clarifies that some people feel an urge deep down to give, but as the urge comes more to the surface, it meets limitations. A person might really want to give, but he is too attached to his money, time, and personal resources. This person is called one whose “spirit volunteers” but whose heart is limiting. Another kind of person is one who does not feel a deep urge to give, but he doesn’t consider his time or money so important, so he is willing to give of them freely. He is called one whose spirit does not move him deeply to give, but his heart is open.

Malbim explains that when it came to donating for the Mishkan, everyone had both a volunteer spirit and an open heart. This is why the Torah verse states both that every person was “lifted up by his heart” to have a good will to give, and was moved by “his spirit that volunteered him” to imagine and connect deeply with the great benefit of this generosity

Sit comfortably in your chair or cushion, close your eyes and take some deep breaths. Pay good attention to your rhythmic breath, and allow yourself to relax even more. Ask Hashem to help you get in touch with your רוּח – ruach – spirit, the deepest spiritual backdrop seat of your emotions. Your ruach is the mediator between your neshama which is inherently G-dly, and your nefesh which is inherently animal. Your ruach is in between. This is reflected in the three letters spelling out the word רוּח – ruach. The first letter ר –reish means head and has the shape of the profile of the back of the head. ר –reish is connected with the neshama. The last letter ח – chet means sin and is connected with the body, it is in the shape of a closed container which separates between the body and the higher realms. The middle letter וּ – vav, which means “and” corresponds to the ruach, the connecting point between the neshama and the body. As you breathe slowly and deeply connect to your רוּח – ruach. Allow your ruach to take you back to a time when you felt especially fulfilled and happy. Get in touch with this exhilarating happiness. Let the waves of happiness emanating from your ruach wash over you. Now take some of this happiness and place it into an imaginary box, wrap it beautifully and tie it with a ribbon. Imagine sending this gift to someone you love, and to someone who really needs it, you can send your spiritual gift to several different people without depleting yourself from its content. Continue sending this gift to as many people as you feel like. You can always send it again at a different time.

Now let’s move to get in touch with our heart. Place both of your hands on your heart and try to feel the rhythmic beating of your heart. If you can’t feel it there, you may move one hand to your throat. Think about a material thing that your heart desires very much. It could be a garment, jewelry, money, an electrical item, or your favorite food. Imagine a person you love very much, and imagine how you would like to share with that person. You would love the person you love to have what you have. Choose one of your favorite material possessions and pray to Hashem silently to help you let go of your attachments to this item. Imagine how life would be manageable even without this favorite thing, especially considering how you could make someone else so happy. Ask Hashem to help you open your heart. Decide now in your heart to give away this item to a person whom you love so much. If it is too difficult to give away your favorite object, you can practice on something which you like very much but it is not your most favorite thing. If this too is hard, then you can practice on something you like even less, and gradually as you repeat this meditation you can learn to open your heart more and more, to give even more. Tap your hands and feet gently before opening your eyes.

This mediation teaches us to give and helps us learn to be realistic in our giving. Some people want to give gold but all they have is silver. It is only possible to impart something that we ourselves have. Rather than insisting on giving what we decide we want to give, with refined generous spirit we learn to give what the recipient needs from us. It is important to act upon your decision during the meditation and give the material gift to the person you decided to within twenty four hours. This way you ensure that your heart won’t turn you astray to make you change your mind. So give your gift in real life today!

In Yonatan ben Uziel’s Aramaic translation of the Torah, the Hebrew phrase “all whose spirit volunteered them” is translated to mean “one whose spirit was perfected to the level of prophecy.” This person has the ability to reach such a level of refinement that s/he becomes a Mishkan, his/her heart becomes an altar, and his/her clothing become the holy garments.[4] When we connect with the spirit of giving inside of us and learn to give with an open heart our gift has a much greater impact. Therefore, it is better to give something small with a generous spirit and a complete heart than to give something greater, which one is not ready to give yet. On the surface the gift may be the same gift as something given in a begrudging way, but on the energy level they are light-years apart. There is even the kind of person who has nothing to give, but if s/he could, s/he would give everything s/he had.[5] Hashem, knows the thoughts of man[6], and considers as if this person built the entire Mishkan.

[1] Shemot 35:21
Ramban, Shemot 35:21
Malbim, Shemot 35:21
Yonatan ben Uziel, Shemot 35:21
Malbim, Shemot 35:21
I Divrei HaYamim 28:9

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Choice is Yours - The Outcome is Not

Dear Friends,
The Purim story illustrates how everything is from Hashem. In spite of Haman’s desire to annihilate the Jewish people, he ironically brought us to the greatest Teshuva (repentance) and increased the light of Israel. Haman’s evil scheme eventually caused the Jewish to have “Light, happiness, joy and honor.”[1] Rabbi David Aaron, during a class he gave in Bat Ayin, explained how we are not in charge of our actions, only of our choices. Haman chose to kill the Jews, but Hashem did not allow his choice to be carried out in action. It is up to Hashem whether we will be able to execute our choices. However, it is up to us to choose the good, to choose life. Purim is, therefore, about refining our choices and desires. This week’s Parsha-Meditation is about getting in touch with our desires and elevating them. Read on to help if you would like to purify your desires from the desire for dead material things, to desire more spiritual “life” L’Chaim!

Purim Sameach and Shabbat Shalom!
With Blessings of the Torah and the Land,
Chana Bracha Siegelbaum

Parasha Meditation Ki Tisa
Shemot 30:11-34:35
Parashat Ki Tisa describes the sin of the Golden Calf, which teaches that no one is completely immune to idol-worship (Literally “strange service”). According to the Lubavitcher Rebbe Menachem Mendel Shneerson ob”m, a version of modern idolatry is when a person is involved in a Jewish lifestyle partially, but does not embrace Judaism in a total way. Allowing a separation between ourselves and Judaism, may eventually cause actual idolatry, G-d forbid. Therefore, we need to constantly evaluate if our service is appropriate and complete, to prevent descending to the level of “strange service”. The spiritual ammunition against falling into “strange service” is the opening verse of our Torah portion: כִּי תִשָּׂא אֶת רֹאשׁ בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל –“Raise the head of the Jewish people”.[2] This implies to be more involved in studying Torah, especially its inner dimensions. This is the best way to eradicate “strange service” both from within and without.[3]

Elevating the Evil Cycle
The Hebrew word for calf is עֵגֶל – egel. The root ע – ayin, ג – gimel ל – lamed also forms the Hebrew word עָגִיל agil, which means earring, from which the Golden Calf was made. This word is connected to the word for circle – עִגוּל which can either refer to an evil cycle or a positive spiral-like cycle, revolving around ascent toward Godliness. A negative cycle is when a person follows the cycles of nature, without recognizing the Divine Providence in the world. This reflects the Golden Calf, made partially of gold from the women’s earrings, which the men had forcefully taken from them.[4] King David implores G-d to lead him in מַעְגְּלֵי צֶדֶק –“ma'aglei tzedek,”[5] – righteous circular ways.[6] From within the evil cycles of strange worship, there is a road to G-dliness. The construction of the Mishkan (Tabernacle), whose golden vessels were also made of the jewelry of the women,[7] was the rectification for the Golden Calf. When jewelry brings out the true grace of a righteous woman, it is holy, and reflects the holy Mishkan.[8]

Our Desires Indicate Who We Are A woman’s desire for jewelry can either come from a low place of “Golden-Calf-desire” for the physical, or from a spiritual desire to reflect Hashem’s glory, beautify herself for her husband, and take pleasure in the holidays. We are what we desire. When we desire material things we are connected to the body. When we desire spiritual things we are connected to our soul. However, desire for physical things can sometimes emanate from our soul, when we desire the physical for spiritual reasons. For example, for some women, cleaning and decorating their home, is a spiritual worship of Hashem. Periodical self-assessment can help us get clarity of where we are holding, and spur us to consciously chose a more spiritual path. We can ask Hashem to help us rectify our desires, so that we will desire closeness to Him.

Sit comfortable in your chair and close your eyes. Take several deep breaths and get in touch with yourself. Feel how your body is touching the chair you are sitting in. Imagine a circle of light surrounding your head as you breathe into it several times. Move your consciousness to your torso and imagine a golden circle surrounding it as you breathe into it. Finally, connect with your pelvis and breathe slowly into it several times as you imagine a circle of light surrounding it. Feel relaxed and centered. As you continue to breathe slowly, ask yourself, “What am I making into an idol? What materialistic goals are running my life?

Who am I? I am my desires! What are my desires? Who I am? What do I desire? Life of Death? Do I desire to pray? Do I desire the spiritual tranquility of Shabbat, the mitzvah of welcoming guests? Or do I desire to go shopping, to see movies and read fashion magazines? Please add to this list of questions to yourself. What do I truly desire? Do I desire physical things, or do I desire spirituality and closeness to Hashem? Are my physical desires spiritual? Or are my spiritual desires physical, for the sake of my ego and self-aggrandizement?

If my desires are mostly physical, then I’m not so connected to my Neshama. Ask yourself: How can I have more life in my life rather than choosing something that makes me feel dead?

In the stillness of yourself, imagine Hashem before you and ask, “Please Hashem, help me become more connected to my Neshama. I desire to desire spiritual things, but my spiritual will is weak. Hashem please strengthen my spiritual will, and help be detaching more from the physical and dead, and become more connected to You and to true life!” Now, with Hashem’s help, quietly resolve to choose life rather than death…the reality, not the fantasy.

We have the ability to refine our will, by getting in touch with and recognizing our material desires. Our purification emanate from the source of our impurity. They are both part of the same cycle. Therefore, the atonement for the golden calf is through the Red Heifer as Rashi explains, “This may be compared to the case of a handmaid’s child that defiled the king’s palace. They said: Let the mother come and wipe up the excrement. Similarly here: since they became defiled by a calf, let its mother (a cow) come and atone for the calf.[9] These two animals are photo negatives of one another. The difference between them is that the Golden Calf is dead, whereas the Red Heifer is very much alive and filled with blood used for sacrifices. It is “life” that makes the difference between ultimate sin and ultimate redemption. Let us detach from the desire for “dead things” and learn to appreciate that which is connected to the Source of life, L’Chaim!

[1] Megillat Esther 8:16.
Shemot 30:12.
Based on article by Rabbi Shaul Leiter (W:5760-25/KiTisa) for the ASCENT of SAFED website www.ascent.org.il.
Rashi, Shemot 32:2.
Tehillim 23:3.
The Hebrew word מַעְגַל can also mean road or way.
Pirkei d’Rabbi Eliezer 44.
Rav Yitzchak Ginsburg, Rectifying the Golden Calf with Balanced Leadership, http://www.inner.org/parshah/exodus/ki_tisa/E_009.php.
Rashi, Bemidbar 19:22