Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Purpose for Every Place on our Path

This week at B'erot: Creative Ulpan from the Bible
Jews like to travel. Since my early childhood, my parents took us children to visit different countries in addition to our yearly trips to Israel to visit our grandparents ob”m. I still have a shelf full of national dolls that I collected during all my childhood travels. I’m sure it expanded my horizon to be exposed to different cultures and languages from an early age. At every stop on our journeys there is something to receive and elevate. Sometimes we Jews had to flee from place to place, during our long-winded history of exile and persecution. Each location, involved a particular rectification for our souls. My grandfather, Meir Erteschick, ob”m was born in Poland, developed his business in Italy, found his wife in Germany and settled in Denmark, before making Aliyah to Israel. He lived in several other places that I can’t remember, but I know he was fluent in eleven languages. Before settling in Bat Ayin, we lived two years in N.Y. and two years in Memphis TN. Not being American born, I really learned from the inside about Jewish city life, and also about the mentality of “out of towners.” This experience has greatly helped me relate to my American students of various backgrounds.

Now we feel very settled in Bat Ayin and hope to never have to uproot from here. Bat Ayin is like a magnet attracting so many sparks to elevate. Still, Hashem guides me on my yearly whirlwind North American journeys, teaching Torah and extracting sparks. I’m so happy when I hear how many of the women I meet on my tours are making Aliyah – (immigrating) to Israel. I know there is a reason for every place I have lived, as we come into life with part of our soul missing. Every stop on our journeys is Divinely guided, for that sake of redeeming these missing soul parts. We have the ability to elevate these sparks, when we accept and cope with whatever place and situation we are placed. Read on to learn Torah sources and a meditation to ingrain within us the Emunah that there is a purpose for every place on our path.

With Blessings of the Torah and the Land
Chana Bracha Siegelbaum 

Read Rebbetzin's commentary on Haftorat Masai: The Way to Redemption paved by the Jewish Family

Parasha Meditation Matot/Masai
Matot: Bamidbar 30:1-32:42 
Masai: Bamidbar 33:1-36:13
Following the Cloud Throughout the Journeys of our Lives
“The children of Israel traveled from Ra’amses and encamped in Sukkot. They traveled from Sukkot and encamped in Etham, at the edge of the wilderness. They travelled from Etham, and turned back unto Pi hachirot, which is before Ba’al-Zephon; and they encamped before Migdol...”[1] Why does the Torah go into trouble by keep mentioning the place from where they journeyed – a mere repetition of the previous arrival place? Sforno explains that both the encamping and decamping were very trying. It was extremely difficult to have to leave a place suddenly without much time to prepare. Sometimes the next location would be worse than the place they came from, and sometimes the opposite. This is why at each stop, it mentions both the place they left and their arrival place;[2] teaching us about their steadfast Emunah to follow the cloud. “By Hashem’s word they camped, and by Hashem's word they traveled.”[3] I admire my students, many of whom still follow the cloud, moving from place to place according to the signs they receive from Hashem.

Israel’s Desert Wanderings Paved the Way for Future Exiles
The travels of the children of Israel in the wilderness may be a pre-curser that paved the way for the Jews to have the strength to go through centuries of exile, in the desert of the Diaspora. These were also wanderings in “places of snakes and vipers, scorpions and thirst,”[4] where our very survival was miraculous. The encampment in one country, and the necessity to leave on sudden notice, was like our sojourn in the desert, by Divine decree. After making Aliyah and living as a family in Israel for seven years, it was quite a shock when my husband received a court-order to work in a physician shortage area in USA, in order to pay back his conditional scholarship. Returning back to Israel once the service had ended was also not easy. It seems like North America holds on to people and makes it hard to leave its comforts. Perhaps this has begun to change, as the sparks are being emptied out of there, like in Egypt.[5]

Extracting Holy Sparks
The Parasha opens up by listing the forty-two different stations that the Israelites encamped during their forty years desert wandering. Why did the children of Israel stay very briefly in some of the places, and in others, such as Kadesh, they stayed for nineteen years?[6] The reason is that Israel’s journey in the wilderness was in order to extract holy sparks. Desolate places void of people are hosts to snakes, vipers and scorpions and impure forces that subjugate holy sparks. Hashem’s people had to wander there in order to extract these trapped sparks. Therefore, Israel would encamp one year in one place, while only twelve hours in another. The length of stay at each place was according to how much time was needed to extract the particular sparks trapped in each place.

The Torah states: “These are the journeys of the children of Israel, who came out of the land of Egypt, by their hosts under the hand of Moshe and Aharon.” This verse teaches us about the Israelites qualifications to extract holy sparks.
1. “…who came out of the land of Egypt” – They had been purified by the iron furnace of their suffering in Egypt.
2. “…by their hosts” – They were united as a complete unite consisting of six hundred thousand Israelites, which connected them to the Shechina (Feminine in-dwelling presence).
3. “…under the hand of Moshe and Aharon.” Moshe is considered the tree through which the six hundred thousand Israelite souls would shine. Whenever they would travel, everything holy similar to the holiness of the Israelites would be attached to them.[7]

Impure Environment – Perfect Backdrop for Elevation
The higher something is, the lower it falls. Today we are also surrounded by impurity all around us, making our world filled with negative lower forces – a perfect breeding place for fallen sparks. By strengthening Emunah, and actively searching for Hashem in whatever situation and place we may be lost, we extract and elevate sparks.

Make yourself comfortable, close your eyes and breathe slowly. Let all thoughts and background noises pass through you, as you inhale and exhale slowly and rhythmically.

Step 1. Visualize the word מַסְעַי – masai – my journeys. Inhale מַסְ – mas, exhale עַי – ai.

Step 2. Repeat over and over forty-two times, or as long as you have the strength.

Step 3.Visualize the mem as a flowing stream of water, the samech as a protective enclosure during all your journeys. Reach new vistas with the eye of the ayin, and integrate it into your personal experience with the possessive yud, which stands for “my.” מַסְעַי – masai – my journeys.

Step 4. Understand that Hashem brings you to key places, ordeals and crossroads in life in order to elevate you.

Step 5. Go back in time, to the first place you remember living. Realize how this place was an opportunity for tikun (rectification) and self-perfection.

Step 6. Think about each of the challenges you faced in this place.

Step 7. In your mind’s eye send Hashem’s light to each of these challenges, accepting that they were Divinely sent in order to purify you.

Step 8. Try to access in which particular way each of these challenges helped you grow, which character-trait did they help you develop?

Step 9. Reframe each challenge as being the best and most inspiring, since it was sent by Hashem as an opportunity to connect even deeper with G-d and with the Divine aspect of yourself.

You may repeat Step 5-9 with other places you lived, possibly in subsequent meditation sessions. Complete the meditation by sending Hashem’s light to each of the places you meditated on, and then send Hashem’s light to the place you live in now, realizing that where you are at this point, is only due to everything you have gone through on your previous journeys.

“These are the journeys of the Israelites, who had left Egypt”[8] on the way to the Holy Land. The forty-two journeys from Egypt to the Land of Israel parallel the phases each person experiences throughout life. Each journey is about freeing ourselves, transcending the constraints (Mitzrayim) which conceals G-d and His Divine light from us. Throughout each of our journeys we have the ability to subdue and sublimate the forces of evil that hold us back from achieving our spiritual potential. Let us be mindful throughout our journeys and phases in life, so that we may learn to harmonize between our body and soul, through open revelation of Hashem!

[1] Bamidbar 33:5-7.
Sforno, Bamidbar 33:2.
Bamidbar 9:20.
Devarim 8:15.
See Shemot 12:36: “They despoiled the Egyptians.” Rashi: “They emptied it.” See also Rabbi Yitzchak Isaac Chaver, Beit Olamin, p. 134b: “The children of Israel elevated with them all he holy sparks that were in the husk of Egypt.” This is why it is not permitted to return to Egypt, since there are no more sparks to extract there. (Rabbi Naftali Hertz, Emek Hamelech, sha’ar 14, chapter 117).
See Rashi, Devarim 1:46.  
[7] This entire paragraph is based on Ohr Hachayim, (Rabbi Chayim Atar) on the Torah, Bamidbar 33:1.
Bamidbar 33:1.

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