Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Tuning into the Holiest Shabbat of the Year

Special student-made Ushpizim decorations in B'erot's Succah
Dear Friends,
We are entering the holiest Shabbat of the year, having emerged from Yom Kippur, feeling so cleansed and pure, and embracing the upcoming Sukkoth Festival. Without the static on our channel to Hashem, we are finally ready to hear – Therefore, we read Parashat Ha’azinu which means to give ear. I designed this meditation to help us open ourselves to really hear the messages our neshama (soul) receives from Above. May we merit hearing who we are and where we are headed! May we take our truth with us to the Sukkah, and rejoice with it in the house of Hashem!

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With Blessings of the Torah & the Land for an exultant Sukkoth Celebration,
Chana Bracha Siegelbaum

Read Rebbetzin's special Succot Torah on
 "Women & Simchat Beit Hashoevah"

Parasha Meditation Parashat Ha’azinu
Devarim 32:1-52
The Shabbat between Yom Kippur and Sukkot is the highest of the highest. Since every Shabbat includes both the lights of the previous and the coming week,[1] this Shabbat includes both the holy lights of Yom Kippur and of Sukkot. The Shabbat following Yom Kippur contains the aspect of forgiveness and awesome holiness. Likewise the lights of simcha (happiness) of the coming week of Sukkot are all included in this Shabbat. According to Netivat Shalom, this Shabbat is the holiest in the entire year.[2] At this time the solemn energies of Yom Kippur merge with the joyful happiness of Sukkot, bringing us into Hashem’s most intimate chambers.

When the Neshama Hears the Body Will Follow
“Give ear, you heavens, and I will speak; and let the earth hear the words of my mouth.”[3]
Why is the heaven implored to give ear with the imperative form of the word הַאֲזִינוּ, whereas regarding the earth it uses the simple future form וְתִשְׁמַע – “will hear”?

Netivat Shalom explains that the heavens allude to the neshama (soul) of which the klipot (husks) have no ability to seize. Therefore, the neshama always hears the heavenly voice (Bat Kol) which goes out daily. When the neshama will hear, then it follows that “the earth will hear the words of my mouth” – meaning that also the body will hear. The body is otherwise far from hearing because it is entrenched within the physical world, occupied in material matters. However, the neshama will surely hear, it being a part of Hashem Above. When we from times to times are aroused in thoughts of teshuvah (repentance) it is a result of our neshama hearing the Bat Kol speaking to the souls of Israel: “Oy to the creation for the offense to the Torah”[4]

By means of our soul hearing then even the body will become aroused. Then our spiritual work is only to hold on to this arousal without letting it go
 – אֲחַזְתִּיו וְלֹא אַרְפֶּנּוּ. l[5]

Holding on to the Holiness of Yom Kippur
After we emerge so cleansed pure and holy from Yom Kippur, in my experience, the real challenge is to hold on to this holy feeling. After Yom Kippur, I’m so careful with every word I speak, every action I do, not to soil the pure holy garments of my soul with an ugly stain. But then, I don’t know what happens, as the year progress, a small wrongdoing, then another and voila back to square 1. I hope this year to try even harder to hold on to the holiness of Yom Kippur and make it last the entire year, washing off each spiritual stain as it comes.

Illuminating Shabbat Brings Lights of Elevation for the Weekdays
The heavens also allude to the holy Shabbat, and the earth to the days of the week. This teaches us that by means of keeping Shabbat properly we have the ability to raise up all the days of the week. When a person sins, his neshama leaves him temporarily, however on Shabbat our neshama shines and we even receive an additional neshama. On Shabbat, the neshama which always cleaves to Hashem returns to every Jew. This is why Shabbat is the acronym for שבת בו תשוב – Shabbat bo tashuv – on Shabbat you will return, for on Shabbat every Jewish person is close to repentance. Even if it is difficult for us to elevate ourselves during the weekdays, on the holy Shabbat we Jews have the ability to return to Hashem. By means of establishing “Give ear you heavens” – that is, to illuminate the Shabbats, then it will follow that “the earth will hear” – that is, that even during the regular weekdays we will b”H achieve closeness to Hashem.[6]

Overcoming Evil by means of Good 
 In the service of Hashem, there is both the aspect of turning away from evil, and doing good; as King David implores us: “Turn away from evil, and do good.”[7] The usual interpretation of this Torah verse is that it is necessary to first turn away from wrongdoing in order to be a suitable vessel for good deeds. However, the Chassidic outlook is opposite. We turn away from evil by means of doing good. Rambam teaches us that in order to get rid of anger we need to go to the other extreme. Even if someone yells and curses us, we shouldn’t feel hurt and we shouldn’t get affected by it at all. “One should teach oneself not to get angry, even over a matter that is proper to get angry about.”[8] However, not everyone is on the level to control his emotions, and not be affected by curses and insults. Yet, when we begin to perform a great holy deed, we get empowered to uproot the negative from within us. Performing good deeds will enable us to turn away from evil, just as the holy pleasure of Shabbat and the holidays infuses the rest of the year with holiness, and enables us to rise beyond the laws of nature even within the regular weekdays. This is the meaning of “Give ear, you heavens, and I will speak” – the heavens allude to the good deeds. When we listen to Hashem by performing His mitzvoth and are involved in giving pleasure (נחת רוח) to Hashem, then it follows that “the earth will hear the words of my mouth” – that also the body which is involved in material desires will hear and become illuminated. By means of the power of good we can overcome evil, and become elevated to our source in holiness.[9]

Give ear, you heavens, and I will speak;
Heaven   שמים      
Soul   נשמה
Shabbat   שבת
Positive Mitzvot   מצוות עשה

and let the earth hear the words of my mouth
Earth   ארץ
Body   גוף
Weekdays   ימי חול
Negative Mitzvot   מצוות לא תעשה

Let us take proper advantage of this holy time when Hashem is so near to really open our neshama and hear His messages for us. Sit in a comfortable place with your eyes closed, breathe deeply and allow yourself to drift into a meditative state.

1. Concentrate on your breath, breathe in all the way to the very deepest place inside yourself, into the pure neshama blown in you by Hashem. No corruption, confusion or discord has ever penetrated to this place of your essential purity.

2. הַאֲזִינוּ – ha’azinu – Give ear. Inhale to the sound of “Ha’ah” – הַאֲ exhale to the sound of “Zinu” – זִינוּ. Breathe out from this place of depths. Repeat 5-10 times.

3. Visualize a flowing heavy curtain before you. Imagine going through the curtain and entering a new space with another curtain lighter than the previous. Breathe into this new place and open the next curtain before you lighter than the previous. Keep breathing and opening curtains before you, lighter and lighter until the curtain becomes so light and thin that it barely is recognizable. Open the last transparent curtain and enter the innermost chamber of your soul.

4. הַאֲזִינוּ – ha’azinu – Give ear. Listen to the sounds you hear in this innermost space of your soul. Visualize your ear as an amazing open funnel, ready to be filled with new light.

5. Listen to the voice calling your name and calling you to be reborn to the mission of your life.

6. Wrap your personal message inside of a beautiful silk material and carry it close to your heart.

7. Return to the earth. Go through the transparent curtain, enter a the old space with another curtain heavier than the previous, breathe into this place and open the next curtain before you heavier than the previous. Keep breathing and opening curtains before you, heavier and heavier until you reach the first heavy curtain bringing you back to the earth.

8. Visualize standing barefoot on the naked earth. Feel the texture of the moist earth beneath your feet. Imagine your silk wrapped message emanating from the earth, softly whispering your truth.

9. Feel closer to yourself, who you are, and where you are headed, then open your eyes. 

This is the Shabbat of Listening (from the opening phrase of Ha’azinu). Let us remember to listen, to be mindful and pay attention to each moment. Let us remember that in each moment we are standing between Life and Death. We must choose life. Ha’azinu lifts up each moment and says, “It is your life! What will you do with it just now?” Let us look at who and where we are and return to the path of our true life!

[1] Be’er Mayim Chaim, Parashat Nitzavim.
Netivat Shalom, Parashat Ha’azinu p. 222.
Devarim 32:1.
Shemot Rabah, 41:7.
Shir HaShirim 3:4.
Netivat Shalom, Parashat Ha’azinu p. 119.
Tehillim 34:15, 37:27.
Rambam, Mishna Torah, Hilchot Deot Chapter 2: Halacha 3, Halacha 7.
Netivat Shalom, Parashat Ha’azinu p. 120

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Finding Hashem in the Very Darkest Darkness

Hashem's Light over Bat Ayin
Dear Friends,
Yom Kippur is actually the happiest day of the year, because on this day Hashem forgives all of our sins, he wipes our slate clean and gives us new chance to start our life anew. We are so fortunate that Hashem loves us and forgives us. More than we want to be forgiven, Hashem desires to forgive us. Hashem is our loving Father and Mother. He wants to give us everything that our own parents may not have been able to. All we need is to allow Him to shower us with blessings, by believing in His love for us within even the very darkest moments. I have designed this meditation as a preparation for Yom Kippur, to help us go through all the partitions of the darkness, to confess our transgressions and move on to the greatest light!

May Hashem forgive you and give you complete atonement! 

May we all together be sealed in the Book of Life!
Chana Bracha Siegelbaum

Parasha Meditaion Parashat Vayelech
Devarim 31:1-31:30
Transitions and Confession
Parashat Vayelech which means “He went” is about transitions. At this time we are in transition praying to be sealed in the Book of Life. Moshe had finally accepted his fate. He was not to live to experience the fulfillment of his dreams – entering the Holy Land with his beloved people, to finally take roots in the land blessed by Hashem. Moshe was at the end of his journey, and now “he went.” Where exactly did Moshe go? The holy Ohr Hachayim explains that forty days prior to demise, the soul goes from the person. The tzaddikkim are aware of the matter. When it stated “Moshe went,” it implied that the live spirit which is called Moshe went.[1] Whenever one door closes another opens. Our fear of death can be lessened by the belief that death is just one more transition in a life marked by constant change. Yet, when accompanied by repentance and confession, each transition becomes smoother. Just as Vidui (confession) is on the lips of the dying, so at this Yom Kippur time when our lives are hanging in a thin string, we confess our misdoings.

Between Incomplete and Complete Confession
This week’s parasha read during the Ten Days of Repentance includes a short confession by the children of Israel: “…Because G-d is not among me, all these evils befell me, and I will surely hide My face in that day...”[2] Ramban explains that this is not a complete confession, but only a thought of regret that they recognized their guilt. Therefore, the verse continues “I will surely hide,” in order that they complete their regret with complete confession and repentance.[3] According to Rambam proper vidui includes taking upon ourselves not to repeat the transgression. This is because the depths of recognizing our wrongdoing, makes it crystal clear that we will never ever repeat it. “Whenever a person transgressed any of the mitzvoth in the Torah, whether on purpose or unintentionally, when he repents he is obligated to confess before the blessed G-d, as it states, ‘A man or a woman if they transgressed any sin…they must confess the sin they committed…’[4] The way to confess is to say – ‘Please Hashem, I sinned, transgressed and committed crime before You, I did such and such, I regretted and am embarrassed about my action, and I will never repeat them.’”[5]

Sins make us Feel as if Hashem has Forsaken Us
For a Jew the worst punishment is to feel that G-d is far from me. We are called to believe that even an iron curtain does not have the power to separate between Israel and their Father in Heaven. G-d dwells with us even in our impurity.[6] Nothing can disconnect us from Him. Whenever we feel distant from Hashem, it’s only Hashem hiding behind the curtains, testing us whether we have emunah to break through all the veils to face Him. “But your wrongs have separated between you and your G-d, and your sins have hidden His face from you so that he does not hear.[7] When the yetzer hara (negative inclination) entices a person to sin, the sin itself is not its main aim, but rather the despondency and despair that follows the sin and make the person feel distant from Hashem. Worse than the wrongdoing itself when we fees that the sin has caused us to be separated from Hashem and that there is no remedy for this. By means of feeling this way we cause ourselves to be distant and detached from Hashem. This is the most difficult mechitza (barrier) it is worse than all other partitions of lusts and lack of emunah. “My G-d, My G-d why have you left me.”[8] The worst punishment for a Jew is when it seems to us that G-d has forsaken us.

The Illusion of Despair
We have to understand that all the walls and partitions are only illusions. “From the depths I called you Hashem”[9] – from the depths of the klipa (husk).[10] Even when we are in the depths of the husk Hashem is with us in our constricted state. [11] “However much a Jew sinned, he still remains a Jew!”[12] “Even an iron curtain has no power to separate between Israel and our Father in Heaven.”[13] However, the yetzer hara still tries to entice us to depression and despair making us feel that Hashem has left us completely. This is the reason for the double language in our Torah verse: “פָּנַי הַסְתֵּר אַסְתִּיר” – “I will doubly hide my face”[14] The first hiding is by means of the actual sin committed, the second hiding is by means of the sin of despair.[15]

In the Very Darkest Darkness the Shechinah Resides
At the revelation at Sinai there were three partitions of darkness hiding Hashem: Darkness, cloud and fog (thick darkness).[16] The fog was the darkest separation, nevertheless “Moshe drew near unto the fog (thick darkness) where G-d was.”[17] The numerical value of the Hebrew word “הָעֲרָפֶל – the arafel (fog)” equals “השכינה – the Shechinah.”[18] Moshe revealed that inside of the very darkest darkness there G-d resides! In order to come close to Hashem we need to go through all of these partitions of darkness, while believing with steadfast emunah that inside of the darkest darkness there we can find Hashem.

Make yourself comfortable, close your eyes and breathe deeply in and out from your nose.
Allow all the sounds around you to pass through you, as clouds on a sunny day.

1. Visualize a great brilliant light before you, feel its dazzling strength and intensity.

2. Feel the strength of the power of Hashem’s light burning painfully in the darkest places of your being.

3. Become aware of your personal misdoings where the light burns most painfully.

4. Confess before Hashem: “Please Hashem, I sinned, transgressed and committed crime before You, I did such _________and such _________ (insert your personal transgressions in the spaces, and add as many as you can think of). I regret and am embarrassed about my actions, and I will never repeat them again.”

5. Visualize a deep darkness – חשֶׁךְ before you. Imagine the darkness turning thicker and thicker. Take a deep breath. Walk through this darkness. Now you arrive at an even darker place filled with the darkest clouds – עָנָן. Take a deeper breath. Pass through the thicket, and walk through the darkness of the clouds. Then arrive at the very thickest darkness possible עֲרָפֶל – darkness so deep and frightening it makes you want turn around instantly. Take your deepest breath and summon all of your courage. Now walk through this very thickest darkness, which is so thick it sticks to you.

6. Mazal tov! You have surmounted. The Shechina is before you with her brilliant shining light. Feel the warmth of love in your heart, the strong loving feeling of knowing that all of your sins have been forgiven.

7. Feel relief, and security that your Father in Heaven has sealed you in the Book of Life!

At the dedication of the Temple, Shlomo Hamelech proclaimed: “Hashem has said that He would dwell in the thick darkness עֲרָפֶל.” At the two highest time of Israel’s history: The giving of the Torah and the dedication of the first Temple, we learn that in spite of these times of the highest revelations, our main spiritual work is to pass through the darkness, the cloud and the fog. This is the main preparation for the High Holidays, although we need to recognize the greatness of our sins, and how much damage they have caused, still we have to believe that even the thickest iron curtain has no power to separate between us and our Father in heaven. A Jew is never ever lost. We are forever children of Hashem our G-d for all eternity!

[1] Ohr HaChayim, Devarim 31:1, quoted by the Netivat Shalom, this entire piece is inspired by Netivat Shalom, Parashat Vayeleh, p. 110-112.
Devarim 31:17-18.
Ramban, Devarim 31:17.
Bamidbar 5:6-7.
Rambam, Hilchot Teshuva, chapter 1: halacha1.
Babylonian Talmud, Yoma 56b.
Yesha’yahu 59:2.
Tehillim 22:2
Ibid. 130:1.
The Rebbe of Kovrin.
“עמו אנכי בצרה” (Tehillim 91:15).
Ibid. Sanhedrin 44a.
Babylonian Talmud, Pessachim 85b.
Devarim 31:18.
Netivat Shalom, Parashat Vayelech, p. 111.
Devarim 4:11.
Shemot 20:18.
I Melachim 8:12.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Standing Upright Today Before Hashem

Berot Pomegranates waiting for Rosh HaShanah
Dear Friends and Supporters,
Once again the New Year is upon us. Let’s stand up and ask ourselves: “Am I ready? Am I ready to face Hashem? What can I do in that short remaining time, to lift myself up and face my higher self to stand in judgment before the King of Kings?” Within our super busy lives we try to take time to recite some extra prayers, to extend ourselves in kindness towards others, and to open our heart and donate even more. We try to repent and ask forgiveness of Hashem and the people in our lives. Yet, are we ready to make Hashem the One and only King over every part of ourselves? This week’s meditation is designed to help prepare us to really face the King, and crown Him King over every limb of our being. By using circular breathing technique and firmly positioning our body in standing meditation, while visualizing Hashem being the King of each part of our being, we have the opportunity to mamash dissolve the blocks that prevent us from fully returning to Hashem.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of you for your generous donations and those who didn’t have a chance yet, please open your heart now to continue your support of Holistic Torah for Women on the Land! If all of you thousand people who receive and benefit from this email will give even a small contribution, we would be able to extend a generous scholarship to a very gifted student for the upcoming fall semester! 

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! שנה טובה תכתיבו ותחתימו May you be inscribed in the Book of Life! May this year be the sweetest in your life! May you rejoice with the people you love and get only closer and closer! May you keep learning and growing and find fulfillment in your life! May you be able to harvest the fruits of your hard labor! May you be able to rejoice in the Land, with the Mashiach and all of Israel!

Chana Bracha Siegelbaum  

Click here to read Rebbetzin's commentary to Haftorat Nitzavim - "Dancing in the Bridge of Redemption"

Parashat Nitzavim
Devarim 29:9-30:20
Standing Upright
“You are standing upright today, before Hashem your G-d…”[1] Upright, not bend over, upright and self-secure; trusting that we will be worthy to stand before G-d in judgment. Standing before Hashem, is to stand straight and not bent over. Kedusha (holiness) does not mean that we should constantly bow our heads. The Torah teaches us to hold our heads high. “Sin causes us to lower our head; evil is rooted in earthly concerns, and is lowly. Kedusha leads us to raise our eyes on high – to become elevated both in quality and in quantity. The farther anything is from kedusha, the lower its profile, the more bent its head. Therefore the Torah tells us that when we stand before G-d, we stand upright with our heads raised”[2]

Reclaiming our Wholeness
“You are standing today….. the heads of your tribes, your elders, and your officers, all of the men of Israel. Your little ones, your wives, the convert in the midst of your camp, from your woodcutter, to your water-carrier.”[3] We all stand before Hashem in our wholeness, from the lowliest part of ourselves – the woodcutter, water-carrier aspect, reclaiming the shards of self that have been broken off in trauma. As we stand up in our integrity, we reclaim all the lost pieces of self that we project on the other, all the parts of self that lie hidden behind walls of shame or pride. We stand before G-d and rise to the challenge that has been put before us. We grow into spiritual adults by standing up to face this challenge and not shying away from it. In standing fully before G-d, we can finally embrace our whole selves completely. We can take responsibility for our choices. In standing before G-d we become true partners in the work of Creation.[4]

Standing in Unity
“You are standing upright today, all of you…” – “today” refers to the Day of Judgment.[5] When we are insecure about how to stand before Hashem in Judgment, on this holy day of Rosh Hashana – the Torah’s advice is: “all of you” – stand together in unity and you will be ok! When we connect with the community, and allow ourselves to really integrate into the group, then judgments will have no power on us. We cannot underestimate the power of the community to nullify negative judgments. Only when we are united, are we called Hashem’s children. Only when we have love for everyone in the community will Hashem have mercy on us, “Like a father has mercy on his children, so does Hashem have mercy on those who fear Him.”[6] This is the meaning of “You are standing today” – on the Day of Judgment, “all of you” – all of you as one, through the power of the community we can awaken mercy and sweeten the judgment.[7]

Crowning G-d King over Each of our Limbs
The main work on Rosh Hashana is to crown Hashem King over each and every limb. This way we cleave to Hashem and sweeten all the judgments. However, there are limbs over which it’s easier to crown Hashem, whereas there are others over which the yetzer harah (negative inclination) has a stronger hold. How can we make Hashem King over the parts of ourselves which are filled with desire and lust? The way is again by means of “all of you” – with the power of the community. Whereas the level of purity is possible achieve alone, holiness can only be achieved together. It is a gift which the King gives only to his children, and only when we are unified are we considered “children.”[8]

Standing Nitzavim Meditation:
Standing Meditation is one of the simplest and potentially most powerful meditations. By aligning ourselves through this meditation, we can crown Hashem King over each part of our body. Standing mostly still gives us the opportunity for mindfulness and allowing Hashem’s light to flow through our entire being, gently dissolving any blockages that may have been standing in the way. Find a quiet, pleasant place to practice. You may want to face an inspiring natural beautiful view.

1. Stand with your feet hip distance apart, and parallel (i.e. toes pointing straight forward). Soften the backs of your knees just enough to feel your pelvis relax downward, and weight come into your feet. Start to feel the support of a golden string from Above, holding you up from the top of your head. Allow your body to relax and hang off that cord. Imagine Hashem’s life-giving light streaming into you, filling your head. The light is filled with the words הַשֵם הוּא הַמֶלֶך – “Hashem He is the King.” Recite in your heart: “Hashem is the King over my head, and face – Hashem Hu Hamelech!

2. Gaze straight forward, with your head aligned happily right on top of your spine, so the muscles of your face, head, neck and throat can be relaxed. Recite with your silent voice: “Hashem is the King on my exterior and interior vision. I give over my vision, my hearing into the hands of Hashem, that I should only hear and see goodness.” Smile gently, and float the tip of your tongue up toward the roof of your mouth, just behind your upper front teeth. (It can be touching or just hovering really close.) As you position your tongue mentally recite: “Hashem rules over my tongue. I fill my words with the light of Hashem.”

3. Take a full, deep breath in, and then let it go anyway it goes, take another deep breath in, and just let it go naturally, let the breath happen at its own speed. Breathe continuously with no gap at all between the inhalations and exhalations. As you breathe recite inwardly: “I make Hashem King over my lungs, over my breathing.”

4. As you continue to breathe, allow any tension in your body, to start to draining out, starting from your head, through your face, your neck, your shoulders, your arms, your wrists, your hands, your torso, your belly, your pelvis, your thighs, your knees, your ankles, your feet, all the way down to your roots in the ground.

5. Allow even your feet to relax, with your weight going down into the ground just forward of the heels, so the front parts of your feet don’t have to exert any force on the ground. Allow your feet to sit easy and relaxed on the ground, like the webbed feet of a duck. Recite within you: “Hashem is King over my steps. I walk only in His light.”

6. Now imagine strings attached to your wrists, feel your wrists being lifted up by these strings. Slowly lift your wrists using those strings, till your wrists come to about the height of your heart. As you wrists life, recite in your heart: “Hashem is King over my heart and my emotions. Hashem is King over all my love. All the blockages all disappear.”

7. Allow your shoulders to relax and open as much as they can. One good way to do this is to imagine all the joints of the shoulders expanding, just a little more space in all the joints of the shoulders, as if every bone in the shoulders is getting just a little further apart from all its neighbors.

8. Have your palms facing your body at around the height of your heart, so that there’s a round space between your arms and your body. Allow the finger-tips of your two hands to point towards (but not touching) each other – as though you were hugging somebody. Let your fingers be extended, with space between them, and your elbows be slightly lifted, so your armpits feel hollow. Recite in your heart: “Hashem is King over my neck, shoulders arms, wrists, hands and heart. All the klipot – all the negativity fly away, easily in the wind. The light of Hashem continues to spread out until my fingertips. I’m making Hashem King on all my actions, all my giving, all my embraces, my love, that it should all be intended for Hashem perfectly.

9. Take a couple of deep inhales and complete exhalations. As you do this, make whatever small adjustments you need to in your stance, so that it feels comfortable. As you stand tall and upright, imagine standing together with all of the Jewish people. Visualize all the people standing in front of you and those behind you, imagining melting into the sea of your people; everyone breathing softly together with their heart beating to the same rhythm.

10. Now, imagine the light of Hashem’s love entering even deeper into you. The light fills your torso, your belly, your pelvis, your thighs, your knees, your ankles, your feet, all the way down. “Hashem reigns over my eating, speaking and prayer. Hashem Hu Hamelech!” The light of Hashem spreads out to your liver. “Hashem is King over all the heavy things in my life. All the poisons get neutralized in His great light. Also the gall bladder and everything bitter gets filled with the sweetness of Hashem’s light. Hashem is King over my kidneys, over my bad consciousness. I don’t have to feel guilty, even the mistakes are from Hashem. Hashem Hu Hamelech! Hashem is King over my pancreas, over my urinary bladder. The light spreads down the legs until the toenails. Hashem is King over the places I go, over my hargelim (habits) I want to do only Hashem’s will completely.”

Parashat Nitzavim is always read on the last Shabbat before Rosh HaShanah. From this parasha and onwards Moses spoke to the children of Israel on the very last day of his life.[9] These powerfully poetic Torah readings that sum up of the whole Torah are appropriate prior to and during the coming Days of Awe. At this time, we must make a very honest reckoning about the past, and strengthen our stand for the future New Year. We stand poised to face its challenges, just as Israel stood in the Plains of Moav, poised to enter the Land.[10]

[1] Devarim 29:9.
Ohr Hachayim, Shemot 30:12.
Devarim 29:9-10.
Shefa Gold,
Targum Yonatan and Rashi, Iyov 1:6.
Tehillim 103:13.
Netivat Shalom, Parashat Nitzavim, p. 187.
Rashi, Devarim 29:9.
Rabbi Avraham Greenbaum, Azamra

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The Mitzvah of Bikurim in our Days

Rebbetzin in her Garden of Hashem's Beautiful Fruits
Dear Friends,
Parashat Ki Tavo always moves me with its descriptions of love of the Land. I also can’t wait till the time – may it be soon – when I will be able to bring up the first fruits of my garden for a Temple offering! As you will read in the description below, the mitzvah of the First Fruit Offering is so beautiful decorated with gold, and accompanied by music. Yet, as much as I look forward, I’m sure it won’t be easy. While it is relatively easy to share some of our extras that we anyway don’t need, it is much much harder to give away the first and the best, which we may really prefer to keep for ourselves. This is why the mitzvah of the First Fruit Offering is so important, because it teaches us to serve Hashem with our guts, and turn our selfishness into generosity. The meditation below gives you practical tips about how to keep the mitzvah of Bikurim in our time.

Shana Tovah U’Metukah!
May you be inscribed in the Book of Life!
With Blessings of the Torah & the Land,
Chana Bracha Siegelbaum

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Parsha Meditation Parashat Ki Tavo
Devarim 26:1-29:8
The Mitzvah of Bikurim in our Days – 
Dedicating the First and Best of All to Hashem

The Glorious First Fruit Offerings During Temple Times
The mitzvah of the First Fruits Offerings (Bikurim) is the beginning and center-piece of Parashat Ki Tavo: “You shall bring the First-Fruits of your Land to the House of Hashem your G-d…”[1] During Temple times, the Jewish farmers would bring the first and the best of their crops as a donation to the Kohanim, who didn’t have their own land. “Those who lived near Jerusalem would bring figs and grapes (because they would not be spoiled by a short journey); those who lived far from Jerusalem would bring dried figs and raisins. An ox went before them with its horns overlaid with gold, and a crown of olive leaves upon its head. The flute was played before them until they approached Jerusalem. When they came close to Jerusalem, they sent messengers before them, and they would decorate their First-Fruits…”[2] “The flute was played before them until they reached the Temple Mount. Once they reached the Temple Mount, even Agrippas the King would carry the basket on his shoulder and go in as far as the Azarah (Temple courtyard). Once they reached the Azarah, the Levites would sing, ‘I will praise You, O G-d, for You have raised me up, and You have not allowed my enemies to rejoice over me!’[3] Immediately following the holiday of Shavuot, the farmers would rejoice by dedicating the beginning of their fruit harvest to Hashem.”[4]

Why is the Whole World Created for the Sake of Bikurim?
Netivat Shalom explains that the entire world was created for the sake of the mitzvah of Bikurim as it states “In the beginning Hashem created…,”[5] and it states, “Bring the beginning of the first fruits of your earth to the house of Hashem your G-d”.[6] He further asks, “What is so important about the mitzvah of Bikurim that the whole world is created for its sake?”[7] The key to discovering the importance of the mitzvah of Bikurim is Hashem’s desire to make a dwelling place below,[8] in the physical world where the shells and the yetzer hara reigns. It is most precious to Hashem, when we serve Him with our guts, from our place of physical desire. For this purpose He created the entire world.

Dedicating my Greatest Desire to Hashem – through the First Fruit Offering
When a person goes down to his field and sees a fig that has ripened, he ties a piece of straw around it and declares: ‘this is Bikurim ’”[9] The entire year, we weeded, composted, watered, pruned and removed worms from our fruit trees. When we finally experience the fruits of our hard labor, seeing our first fig ripening, this is so exciting, special and desirable, that we just want to gobble up this delicious fruit then and there. Such desire is described by the prophet as follows: “as the first-ripe fig before the summer, which when one looks upon it, while it is yet in his hand, he eats it up.”[10] Now as always, the week of Parashat Kitavo is the peak of the fig season. Oh these figs are so deliciously sweet, that I’m embarrassed to admit, but sometimes I wake up to just run down to my garden and enjoy. However, I look forward to the time B”H soon when I will have to restrain my desire to indulge in all our hard work the entire year, and instead tie a string around this most precious fig, to dedicate my greatest desire to Hashem, for the mitzvah of Bikurim!

Entering the Temple with our Fruit-basket
“It shall be, when you enter the Land which Hashem your G-d is giving you for an inheritance, and you possess it and begin to set up permanent residence in it. Then you shall take all the fruit of the ground, which you shall bring from your land that Hashem your G-d is giving you; you shall put it into a basket, and you shall go to the place which Hashem your G-d will choose as a residence for His Divine Name.”[11] When entering the Temple with our fruit-basket, facing the Kohen, we will recite a declaration of gratitude to Hashem for bestowing His blessings upon Eretz Yisrael!

Fulfilling the Mitzvah of Bikurim in our Days
Knowing that the holy Torah is eternal; as we learn from the Thirteen Principles of Belief: “This Torah will never be exchanged;”[12] then, how do we fulfill the mitzvah of Bikurim today when we have neither a worshipping Kohen, nor a Temple, or an altar? Even today we can fulfill the mitzvah of Bikurim by dedicating the beginning of every matter to Hashem. The body follows the head. The Netivat Shalom gives an example of why the beginning of everything is so important. If we write down the number zero, no matter how many zeros we add to this first zero, the entire number will still have no value. However, if we only add a number one in the beginning, then each and every zero adds to the total number.[13] Therefore, by dedicating the first to Hashem, we can illuminate and elevate our entire existence.[14]

Consecrating the First and Best of Everything to Hashem
The first of everything is always the most exciting. Therefore, the purpose of the First Fruit Offering is for every Jew to give over that which is most beloved and precious for himself to Hashem. For example, the first-born child was originally dedicated to Temple service,[15] the first of the Chalah Offering,[16] and so the first born kosher animal.[17] Also today, we are supposed to dedicate the beginning of every day – when we are full of energy and excitement – to Hashem through prayer, before beginning our day with any other activities. While anticipating the return of Temple times, I like to practice the First Fruit Offering, by thanking Hashem profusely for the produce and sharing my shiny fruits with Rabbis, teachers and students alike. I also try to sanctify the beginning of my day for holiness, thanksgiving and prayer.

This meditation is not really a meditation, but more of a meditative practice to be incorporated in your daily life routine. It gives you guidelines of how to continuously dedicate the first and the best to Hashem.

1. When you awake in the morning – as soon as you open your eyes, thank Hashem for restoring your soul. Try to infuse your Modeh Ani prayer with the excitement and thankfulness to Hashem for this new day. Add your personal thankful prayer as you face Hashem upon rising from your bed.

2. Dedicate your first bite of food in the morning to Hashem, by taking a deep breath and then reciting the following: “For the sake of the unity of the Holy One with His Shechinah, I do not eat only for the sake of giving pleasure for my body, G-d forbid, but for the sake of maintaining my body healthy and strong for the sake of serving Hashem.”[18] The Biala Rebbe teaches that if we make this conscious intention before our meal, then even if in the middle we get distracted and start eating for selfish pleasures, still because we had a pure intent to begin with, our original intention is never nullified, and our entire eating goes after the intention we had at the beginning of the meal.

3. When you buy something new save it to use first time for Shabbat or the upcoming holiday, to rejoice with it for the sake of Hashem. This applies both to a new fruit or new interesting kind of food, as well as a new garment.

4. When you go shopping, as you are waiting on line before finalizing your purchase recite:
“For the sake of the unity of the Holy One with His Shechinah, may everything I buy be vessels for performing mitzvoth!"
Whenever possible try to buy something really special as a gift to make someone else happy.

5. When you pick your fruits, flowers, herbs, or veggies, try to give some of your nicest produce to a person in need.

6. Before beginning your exercise routine take a deep breath and recite “For the sake of the unity of the Holy One with His Shechinah, I exercise in order to maintain my body healthy and strong for the sake of serving Hashem.”

7. When you go to sleep, before reciting the bedtime Shema, ask Hashem that your sleep will be deep and sound to give you strength to awake excited to serve Him first thing in the morning!

The Biala Rebbe explains based on his father’s teachings the Divrei Bina that in every matter a person needs to put effort that the beginning should be for the sake of heaven, for everything goes after the beginning. In heaven they calculate mainly the beginning of the thoughts of a person, whether through fulfilling the Torah and the Mitzvot, or whether through physical matters, the beginning of intention needs to be for Hashem. When we have pure intentions in our every deed, to dedicate its beginning to Hashem, we fulfill the mitzvah of Bikurim even more than during Temple times![19]

[1] Shemot 23:19.
Mishnah Bikurim, Chapter 3,Mishnah 3.
Tehillim 30:2.
Mishnah Bikurim, Chapter 3, Mishnah 4.
Bereishit 1:1.
Shemot 23:19, Bereishit Rabah 1:4.
Netivat Shalom, Parashat Ki Tavo, page 151.
Midrash Tanchuma, Parashat B’chukotai 3.
Mishna Bikurim Chapter 3, Mishnah 1.
Yesha’yahu 28:4.
Devarim 26:1-2.
Rambam, The Thirteen Principles of Emunah, Principle 9.
Netivat Shalom, Parashat Ki Tavo, page 157
Chelkat Yehoshua, Articles, p. 19.
Shemot 13:2
Bamidbar 15:20.
Devarim 18:4.
Rabbi Elimelech of Lizhensk, The Book of the Conduct of the Righteous.
Rabbi Ben Tzion Rabinowitz, Shulchan Adam Mekaper, A Person’s Table Atones, Chapter 5.