Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Spiritual Healing is Required to fulfill the Mitzvah “Love your fellow as yourself…”

View over Bat Ayin
This Thursday we celebrate Yom Haatzmaut, which is not just a matter of national independence and security, but on this day we have passed the border (מחסום) that separates between exile and redemption. The way is still long, but we are on the other side of the barricade. The period of exile is behind us, and we are stepping on the way of redemption. Even if we are still far from the peak, still, with G-d’s grace, the main obstacles of the last two thousand years have been removed. Now we need to infuse the physical independence in our Land with true love for our fellow Jews. It is not by chance that we read the famous mitzvah “to love your fellow as yourself” during the week of Israel’s Independence Day. In order to attain our goal of establishing a Jewish country that reflects the Divine ideals for Israel, we need to learn to truly love one another. Read on to learn a meditative practice that helps us engender and integrate true love to all the people in our lives! Happy celebrations!

With Blessings of the Torah and the Land

Chana Bracha Siegelbaum 

Outside Israel, Parshat Taria-Metzora is read this week.  Click here to read Rebbetzin's Parsha Meditation Tazria-Metzora

Click here to read Rebbetzin's Haftorah Commentary on Acharei Mot-Kedoshim

Parasha Meditation
Acharei Mot, Vayikra 16:1-18:30
Kedoshim, Vayikra 19:10-20:27

Spiritual Healing is Required to fulfill the Mitzvah “Love your fellow as yourself…”
In Parashat Kedoshim – about how to become holy, we learn about the prerequisite, to love others like we love ourselves. True holiness is not just about what we do outwardly, but even more about how we feel inwardly. A real holy person has learned to control his feelings, to think only holy thoughts about others, and to feel love and compassion for every creature. To be holy is to let go of all the big and even small resentments we may carry with us. Only then will we be able to truly love each other with a full heart as the Torah states:
לֹא תִקֹּם וְלֹא תִטֹּר אֶת בְּנֵי עַמֶּךָ וְאָהַבְתָּ לְרֵעֲךָ כָּמוֹךָ אֲנִי הָשֵם
ספר ויקרא פרק יט: יח
“Do not revenge, and do not bear a grudge against the children of your people. Love your fellow as yourself, I am G-d.”[1]

The Torah verse requires us to love our fellow like we love ourselves. In order to give and receive love, we need to begin by learning to love ourselves, if we don’t have love for ourselves, all our relationships will suffer. It is impossible to fulfill this mitzvah from the Torah, and rid ourselves of holding on to grudges, without deep inner spiritual healing work. Most of the people who come to me for emunahealing have difficulty loving themselves. They may be filled with guilt and shame and must learn to forgive themselves. In order to forgive ourselves we need to go into a meditative state, to get in touch with our guilt and its underlying causes. The next step is then to work on forgiving others truly with all our hearts, and sending them love. This too, requires the meditative work of spiritual healing. In my upcoming teleseminar I teach more details on how to learn to forgive and love.
Click here for more info.

Sit comfortably in your chair, close your eyes and take deep breaths several times and let go of anything you are may be holding on to. Try to connect with the light of Hashem which always comes down from Above. Our body is continually filled with Hashem’s light and love even when we don’t see it or feel it; we know that we are filled with Hashem’s light. Imagine Hashem’s light filling your head and spreading down your shoulders and to the rest of your body. Your entire body is as if made of the material of a light bulb filled with light. Now try to get in touch with where your old feelings of guilt and resentment. Visualize these feelings as dark clouds within you. Try to locate these dark clouds in your body. Are there any in your head, in your throat or perhaps in your heart region. Send Hashem’s light and love to each of the dark clouds within you. Keep breathing into them, one by one until you feel them evaporate or burst.

Think about a person that you feel badly about for whatever reason. Visualize your bad feelings/resentments/grudges as dark clouds within you, within the person, or on an imaginary string connecting the two of you. Take Hashem’s light and send it to all of these dark clouds, one by one until each of them evaporate or bursts. You can repeat this spiritual healing exercise with as many people as you can focus on at any given time. If necessary, you can continue at a different time.

Now send Hashem’s light and love to the person towards whom you had resentment. By sending light to someone that you have difficulty with, you have the ability to rectify your relationship with that person. You may also send light to any person close to you. It could be a person you love very much, and who is in need of light and healing. See if you can feel where the person most needs this light from you, and direct your light to that place. Keep sending light as long as you are able, before wiggling your toes and fingers and opening your eyes. It is wonderful to repeat this meditation daily, opening yourself to receive Hashem’s light and sending it to different people in your life.

The gematria (numerical value) of the Hebrew word for love – אהבה – ahava is 13. This is the same gematria as the Hebrew word for one – אחד – echad. The number 13 also alludes to the 13 principles of mercy. Only when we are one with someone can we really love that person. This is why the greatest love is between a mother and her baby, as they were one in her womb. To feel love, we need to reveal the aspect with which we unify with our fellow Jew.

The body is a vessel for the soul; the soul is a vessel for the Divine. Every Jew has a Divine spark of light and love, emanating directly from Hashem. This is the source and power of our love – Hashem’s love which is beyond our reality. Hashem surprises us with endless love, if we only open for Him, even a small opening to receive.
פתחי לי פתח כחודה של מחט ואני אפתח לכם פתח שיהיו עגלות נכנס  
ילקוט שמעוני שיר השירים, ה, רמז תתקפח
“Open for Me like the opening of a needle, and I will open for you an opening for wagons to enter.”[2]

It is important to send love to everyone, especially to those that we have a hard time relating to. A friend of mine once had a difficulty relating to one of her neighbors. They had had a dispute over trivialities. She decided to work on this by continually sending her neighbor love and light. One day, her neighbor sent her two challot for Shabbat. The power of sending love to someone is so great it can materialize in two Shabbat challot. This proves that sending love and light can overcome any tension and difficulty we may have with another person. This is what King Shlomo alluded to in his proverbs:
כַּמַּיִם הַפָּנִים לַפָּנִים כֵּן לֵב הָאָדָם לָאָדָם ספר משלי פרק כז: יט
“As in water, face answers to face, so the heart of man to man.[3]

[1] Vayikra 19:18.
Yalkut Shimoni, Song of Songs, Chapter 5, Allusion 989.
Proverbs, 27:19.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Time-out for Self-reflection and Meditation

Rebbetzin Chana Bracha at the Tomb of our Patriarchs, Hevron
The lights of Pesach lead us to the vessels of getting back into our routine following the holiday. While we count the Omer, we are building our ability to hold Hashem’s light, one aspect at a time. This week of gevurah (constraint) which follows directly after the chesed (expansion) of Pesach is especially suitable to build for the boundaries necessary to hold the lights we experienced during the holiday.[1] At this time we also move from the expansive holiday togetherness to the more solitary everyday routine. This more self-contained mode of reality is reflected in our weekly parasha when we learn about the seclusion which both the birthing mother and the person with tzara’at needed to undergo for personal purification. Personally, I try to purify from all the heavy extra food I tried not to eat on Pesach. Read on to get to the post-Pesach reclusive rebalancing meditation.

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

Click here to read Rebbetzin's Haftorah Commentary to Haftorat Tazria-Metzora

Parasha Meditation Tazria-Metzora
Vayikra 12:1-15:33
In Parashat Tazria we learn that a person must spend time in physical seclusion, truly alone during specific periods of his or her life. When we get out of sync, we need this aloneness in order to return physically and spiritually to a balanced state of being, before being ready to return to the community. Parashat Tazria opens with eight verses describing the seclusion and purification period that women were required to go through after giving birth. A new mother needs this time alone to integrate her life-changing experience, and re-emerge into the family and community as a new person.

The remainder of the parasha is about the period of isolation of the person afflicted with tzara’at – a disease usually translated as leprosy, yet it is more accurately translated as psoriasis.[2] This skin disease was only the outward physical symptom of a spiritual disorder or confusion.

Rather than going to the doctor, people with symptoms of tzara’at had to turn to the Kohen – the spiritual healer. Only he was able to make the diagnosis of tzara’at for which the prescribed treatment was immediate isolation. “All the days during which the plague shall be in him, he shall be טָמֵא (ritual impure), he is טָמֵא. He shall dwell alone, outside the camp shall his habitation be.”[3]

Even if we don’t experience the physical symptoms of tzara’at today, we certainly don’t lack spiritual disorder or confusion. In our social media day-to- day lives, we interact continually, and often, in auto-pilot mode. When we feel confused, conflicted or in a state of imbalance, seclusion, silence and time alone, provide an essential part of the answer to healing ourselves and our Neshama (soul), It may be helpful to turn to friends and family when we need support, yet, at some point, it is time to turn inwards for answers. We need to take the time to sit again, to do the inner work that only we can do for ourselves.

While those afflicted with physical tzara’at were required to be secluded in order to heal themselves, those affected with spiritual tzara’at – confusion, worry and lack of emuna – may benefit from the spiritual seclusion of meditation. Keep in mind that spiritual negativity is contagious. You would do you’re your community well, by taking time out rather than burdening them with your complaints. When you are about to meditate or during a meditation session, you might reflect over why have you chosen the silence and internal seclusion of meditation in that moment. How does the seclusion heal you or re-balance you?

Meditation takes time. I find it hard to take this time out from all my responsibilities. Yet, this time is my offering for inner healing in an effort to bring more balance to my interactions and lives with which my life is intertwined. Let us take some moments to rebalance ourselves with ourselves, return to our breath and see what arises. Sit comfortably on a chair or cushion, and allow your breath to raise and lower your chest rhythmically. Notice how you are feeling at this moment, notice the places within you which could be more comfortable. Breathe into your places of pain or discomfort and feel how the tension dissolves. Imagine your breath is like a flashlight illuminating the dark parts of your soul. Breathe light into your confused darkened spirit, and experience how the darkness gradually flickers and turns into light.

Imagine you walk alone through a dark tunnel, grabbing hold of the slippery walls reaching the light at the end. A tall mountain meets your eye as you emerge from the tunnel. You start climbing the mountain. At first, the earth is soft and sandy and then gradually it turns more rocky and stony. You pass rows of tress, with lush green leaves, the trees make room for the most exquisite spring flowers blooming close to the ground, notice all their various colors and shapes. You keep climbing up the mountain, while breathing rhythmically. You feel your heart beating as you continue climbing. It seems like you have reached the peak, but each time you reach the top of the mountain, there’s more distance to go. Finally, the trail ends in just rock. You reach the top and turn slowly to take in the entire, incredible view. You are alone בָּדָד (badad) and at one with G-d’s creation. Being alone...being alive....feeling the greatest joys. Inhale while visualizing going inward to the sound of בָּ – ba, exhale while visualizing the letters and the sound of דָד – dad. Repeat nine more times, then walk down the mountain and return to yourself.

The Hebrew word for alone בָּדָד – badad, from our Torah verse הוּא בָּדָד יֵשֵׁב – “…He shall dwell alone…”[4] has the numerical value of ten. Ten is the number that indicates the oneness within the multiplicity. Hashem Who is One manifests himself through ten sefirot. Everything within this world has a beginning, end and middle. By its widths it is likewise divided into three: Right, left and middle. Likewise in its depth it consists of inner, outer and middle. Together the lengths, widths and depth each have three dimensions which makes nine. The tenth dimension gives a space for these nine manifestations to exist.[5] Thus by sitting alone – בָּדָד – badad, we can experience our aloneness as part of the manifestation of Hashem’s oneness expressed through the ten dimensions of בָּדָד – badad.

[1] From the day following the Seder we count the Omer that reflected the barley offering during Temple times. During each of the seven weeks between Pesach and Shavuot when we count the Omer one of the seven emotional manifestations of Hashem is reveals. The first week during the holiday of Pesach corresponds to Chesed, the second week Gevurah, the third to Tiferet etc.
Cheyne and Black, Encyclopedia Biblica, Shai A, Vardy D, Zvulunov A (2002). "[Psoriasis, biblical afflictions and patients' dignity]" (in Hebrew). Harefuah 141 (5): 479–82, 496. PMID 12073533.
Vayikra 13:46.
Rabbi Moshe Shatz, Ma’ayan Moshe, page 22.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Balancing Holy Intention with Correct Action

Dear Friends,
Pesach has been such a beautiful season of power and intensity. I have literally watched how the dry sticks looking tree-branches have woken up, opening new lush green leaves in a couple of days. During Pesach our love and passion awakens together with the unfolding of nature. This is why it is a minhag (custom) to read Song of Songs on Pesach, as it describes the love between Hashem and His people. During this time of so much amazing light unfolding in nature, and in the world, we count the “Omer” -- a particular measure of barley[1]-- because our vessels don’t quite measure up. The light of the time period between Pesach and Shavuot – the most glorious anticipation of Divine revelation – the month of Ziv – Radiance,[2] has been darkened by the semi mourning for the students of Rabbi Akiva. They and we lack the proper vessels to contain all of the light and love.[3] Sefirat HaOmer (counting the Omer) teaches us how to increase our love and desire within the proper outer measure. This is also the lesson to learn from the “strange fire” that Aharon’s sons, Nadav and Avihu sacrificed out of love and passion in this week’s parasha, which we read right after Pesach. Their light breaks through the boundary, missing proper vessels, in their lack of respect for their elders. I have designed this week’s meditation to help connect our holy intention – “light” with the proper outer Halachic boundary – “vessel”.

With blessings for a delightful spring!
Chana Bracha Siegelbaum

Parasha Meditation Shemini
Vayikra 9:1-11:47 

“The sons of Aharon, Nadav and Avihu each took his fire pan, placed within it fire and placed incense upon it. And they [thus] offered a strange fire before Hashem, one that He did not command of them. And a fire came forth from before Hashem and devoured them and they died before Hashem.”[4]

What was so terrible wrong with the act of Aaron’s sons, that they had to pay for it with their lives? After all they were holy men, and very close to Hashem.[5] They didn’t have in mind to sin at all. On the contrary, when they saw the new fire which descended from heaven to consume the burnt offering, they desired to add their own fire out of the excitement of their love for the holy.[6] This is learned from the word וַיִּקְחוּ –Vayikru – “They took”, which denotes happiness.[7]

The problem was that they did something they were not commanded to do, as it states in the Torah verse quoted above. They took the initiative on their own to do what they thought was right, without first checking with the established authorities of their father Aharon and uncle Moshe. While some might interpret this as a good thing, it is evident that G-d did not! This presumption is considered making light of Divine service.[8]

Today, in our generation of “love” rather than “fear”, we all too often experience the desire to act spontaneously expressing our personal love and excitement without first making sure that our actions are in accordance with accepted Halacha (Jewish law). Yes, it is important to not just become Halacha robots, discussing hairsplitting differences of exactly how many grams of matzah we need to eat at the Seder within a particular amount of minutes, without really feeling love and excitement for the mitzvah of eating matzah. On the other hand, we can’t just follow our heart and light the Shabbat candles overflowing with deep intention and devotion 5 minutes after sunset. While we must strive to emulate the passion of Aharon’s sons, the lives of Aharon’s sons were taken in order to teach the importance of balancing inner personal intention with correct outer action. The measurements of Halacha are the vessels to contain our light of love and excitement. Without the proper vessels, this light becomes a strange fire!

Close your eyes and breathe slowly in through your right nostril and out through your left nostril.

Breathe in all the air you can from your right nostril on a count of 12, while closing your left nostril with your middle finger. Now close your right nostril as well with your thumb placing your index finger on the ridge of your nose. Hold your breath for a count of 18, then slowly open your left nostril by removing your middle finger and breathe out very slowly to a count of 24. Repeat now by breathing into your left nostril to a count of 12, hold your breath for a count of 18 and breathe out from your right nostril to a count of 24. Repeat this cycle 5 times. Now remove your fingers from your nose and breathe naturally. Allow your mind to wander and scan your consciousness for a mitzvah you particularly connect with. It could be a special part of a Jewish holiday service, or a mitzvah between people such as guarding our tongue or visiting the sick.

Dwell in your mind’s eye on one mitzvah you personally feel a great passion for. – A mitzvah you really enjoy. Now imagine doing this mitzvah not only with your ultimate love and excitement, but also with precision and attention to detail. Note the correct timing and amounts of the action, in addition to the particular words needed to be pronounced correctly. Resolve to study up on the details of your favorite mitzvah and or consult a rabbinic authority for fine-tuning of your chosen mitzvah.

Rashi teaches us that the death of Aharon’s sons took place by two threads of fire entering into their nostrils and extracting their soul from their body.[9] The nostrils connect our body with our soul. Actually soul in Hebrew – “Neshamah” – is the same word as breathing –
Neshimah”. This is because when Hashem originally imbued the first human with a soul, “He breathed a living soul into his nostrils”.[10] By slowing our breath and breathing in a measured way, we can fine-tune our connection between body and soul – Action and intention.

Barley in Hebrew is שעורה from the Hebrew root שעור that means measure-
I Melachim 6:1
The main building of vessels take place by showing proper respect, which was what the students of Rabbi Akiva lacked.
Vayikra 10:1-2.
“I will be sanctified through those who are close to me” (Ibid.3).
Yalkut Shimoni, Vayikra, 10, Allusion 525.
Note, the same word is also used to mean marriage, the epitome of love and excitement.
Rabbi Moshe David Valle, top student of the Ramchal, commentary to Vayikra (Avodat HaKodesh).
Rashi, Vayikra 10:5.
Bereishit 2:7.

Monday, April 2, 2012

The Bread of Many Answers

B'erot's Blooming Garden
I have often wondered why in Israel the exhausting Pesach preparations always coincide with planting the summer garden. It seems there is never enough time to both clean and garden. Today it became clear to me that in preparation for Pesach Hashem sends us out of our kitchen cabinets into the garden to recharge by experiencing the renewal of Nature. In order to achieve freedom on Pesach it is more important to spend time outdoors and align ourselves with the rebirth of Nature, rather than doing extra spring cleaning. Listening to the songs of the birds prepares us to us redeem our speech from exile, as we eat the mitzvah matzah on Pesach. 
Read on to learn more about the connection between matzah, speech, freedom and redemption.

Pesach Kasher V’Sameach,
With Blessings of the Torah & the Land,

Chana Bracha Siegelbaum

The Bread of Many Answers
The Pesach Hagadah opens with the words, “This is the bread of poverty that our fathers ate in Egypt.” Yet, “lechem oni” – bread of poverty – also has another connotation. “Lechem oni – the bread about which one answers many things”[1]

With matzah as the center piece, the Seder revolves around questions and answers. The son asks “mah nishtana” (How is this night different…) and his father answers him. As our Rabbis taught, if he has a wise son, the son will ask him, otherwise his wife asks. If he doesn’t have a wife he must ask himself, even two scholars who know the laws of Pesach must ask one another.[2]

The Hagadah itself is written the way of question and answer, in place of simple statements. Rather than affirming that we eat matzah because…, entire sections are written in questions such as: “Matzah – Why do we eat this unleavened bread… Maror – Why do we eat this bitter herb?”[3] The manner of questioning help us to regard ourselves as personally going out of Egypt, when we experienced the newness of emerging from the constraints. Rather than feeling accustomed to the rituals of the Seder, we should feel renewed of soul and wonder about eating the matzah, maror etc. …. Only when we become amazed by the wonder of how this night is different from all other nights, will we be able to feel renewed and changed as if we personally emerged from Egypt.[4]

The attribute of the month of Nissan is שיחה (sicha) –conversation/speech.[5] By answering many questions about the Exodus during the Seder we have the ability to rectify the covenant of speech. This is alluded to in the astrological sign of Nissan טלה – talé – lamb which is linked to the Hebrew word בטלה – bate’la meaning idle. The Matzah elicit rectification of idle speech which continues through the counting the Omer that we recite aloud.[6]

The reason why the mitzvah of telling the story of the Exodus rectifies the covenant of speech is that every mitzvah empowers the limb employed to perform it. The mitzvah of eating the matzah rectifies eating, while telling the story rectifies speech. Therefore, Pesach פה סח (Peh-sach) means, “the mouth speaks” – for the mouth of Israel is opened by means of the matzah as King David wrote: “Take me out from the confines of my soul, so I can thank you…[7] True freedom from slavery is to be able to open our mouth to praise Hashem. This is why it is so praiseworthy to increase in speaking about the Exodus during the Seder. By means of telling the story our mouth becomes like a wellspring which overflows. This is the meaning of “the bread of many answers.”[8]

The expression “Lechem Oni” can also mean –“the bread upon which we call out.” Eating the matzah in holiness enables us to call out with a great voice in prayer. When we turn the letter chet of chametz into the letter heh of matzah – which refers to holiness of thought – we empower our voice to emerge in powerful tefilah (prayer).[9]

By means of the matzah we also merit the voice of Torah. The word “oni” equals the numerical value of the word “kol” – voice, mentioned in regards to Ya’acov: “The voice is the voice of Ya’acov”.[10] The first mention of the word voice in the verse refers to prayer, the second “voice” to Torah Torah…[11]

Maharal explains that matzah is called the bread of poverty in contrast to “matzah ashira” – rich matzah, which contains oil and honey. A poor person has no money, only himself and his body. Likewise, matzah has only the essential dough which consists of water and flour. It represents simplicity.

Although poverty seems to be the opposite of freedom, the Hagadah teaches us that poverty is related to redemption. Redemption can only come when one becomes totally oneself without being dependent on anyone else. Just as a slave is dependent on his master, likewise a wealthy person is dependent on his possessions. Since someone poor has no possessions or attachments, he can stand on his own independently. This connects him to the energy of redemption. “Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose.”[12] Therefore, during the night of the Exodus, we are commanded to eat the bread of poverty containing nothing but its own essence.

The simplicity of the matzah connects us to the redemption on Pesach, which origins from the upper world. The quality of simplicity, although considered a lack in this world, is a virtue in the upper world. While, the Kohen Gadol (High Priest) ministers in golden garments all year, on Yom Kippur he enters the innermost chamber in simple white garments. By entering in the innermost chamber of the Holy of Holiest he goes beyond the level of this world, which is compound, and acquires the level of the upper world, which necessitates simplicity.

Matzah is related to answers because it teaches us about the Exodus and publicizes the miracle and the haste with which the Jewish people left Egypt. The Torah says, “Seven days you shall eat matzah, for in haste did you go out of Egypt.”[13] Haste is essentially connected to the poverty of matzah, because it too stands on its own, independent of the continuation of time. Moreover, we went out in the first month because the first is not connected and joined to previous months.[14] Redemption is beyond continuation and connection. For this reason we eat the bread of poverty in haste.

The haste above the continuation of time during the Exodus teaches us that the Exodus is beyond time, and they went out by means of the upper level. The redemption was not according to nature, and therefore it is proper that they should eat the bread of poverty that is simple. This is the reason why matzah is related to answers. Matzah tells us about the haste of the Exodus and teaches us that the redemption came from the upper world.[15]

According to Rav Shalom of Beltz, “the bread of many answers” can also mean that on this night, G-d answers and fulfills all the requests we make of Him. This is the night when the redemption and salvation of Israel is awakened. Therefore, “whoever is hungry” and needs Divine assistance should take advantage of this time and “come eat,” for the Heavenly help will come. At this time, and by means of eating this bread, our requests are answered from Heaven.

Let the matzah teach us freedom from any attachment so we can return to our essential selves. May the “lechem oni” empower us to elevate our eating and speech, arousing our voice in Torah and tefilah, and in the merit of the matzah may Heaven answer all our heartfelt prayers to deliver us from our oppressors!

[1] Babylonian Talmud, Pessachim 115b.
ibid. 116a.
The Hagadah of Pesach, the saying of Rabban Gamliel.
Pri Tzaddik, The Holiday of Pesach, Ot 2.
Sefer Yetzira 5:7.
Ateret Yehoshua on the Torah.
Tehillim 142:8.
Sefat Emet on Pesach.
Likutei Halachot, Laws of the Meal, Halacha 3.
Bereishit 27:22.
Sefat Emet on Pesach.
Janis Joplin.
Devarim 15:3.
Nissan is called the first of the Jewish months.
Maharal, Gevurat Hashem, Chapter 51