Monday, August 26, 2013

Standing Upright Today before Hashem

Remembering this year and Rebbetzin's special tour to North America
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 for really facing 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! Click here to donate!

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!

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

Read Rebbetzin’s commentary to Haftorat Nitzavim - "Dancing on the Bridge of Redemption" 
Parashat Nitzavim
Devarim 29:9-30:20
Standing Upright with Our Heads Raised
“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 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 “ His 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 parallel, hip distance apart, (your toes pointing straight forward). Soften the backs of your knees just enough to feel your pelvis relax downward, and the 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. Relax the muscles of your face, head, neck and throat. Recite with your silent voice: “Hashem is the King on my exterior and interior vision. I give over my vision and 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 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 lift, recite in your heart: “Hashem is King over my heart and over my emotions. Hashem is King over all my love. May all the blockages 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 your shoulders expanding, just a little more space in all the joints of the shoulders, as if every bone in your 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, on all my giving, on 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 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 into 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.
[2] Ohr Hachayim, Shemot 30:12.
[3] Devarim 29:9-10.
[4]Shefa Gold,
[5] Targum Yonatan and Rashi, Iyov 1:6.
[6] Tehillim 103:13.
[7] Netivot Shalom, Parashat Nitzavim, p. 187.
[8] Ibid.
[9] Rashi, Devarim 29:9.
[10] Rabbi Avraham Greenbaum, Azamra .

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Dedicating the First and Best to Hashem

Rebbetzin is ready with her fruits!
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 be embarrassed to admit that we 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.

Netivot Shalom explains that the entire world was created for the sake of the mitzvah of Bikurim as it states “In the beginning Hashem created…,”[1] and it states, “Bring the beginning of the first fruits of your earth to the house of Hashem your G-d”.[2] He further asks, “What is so important about the mitzvah of Bikurim that the whole world is created for its sake?”[3] The key to discovering the importance of the mitzvah of Bikurim is Hashem’s desire to make a dwelling place below,[4] 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. 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

Read Rebbetzin’s commentary to Haftorat Ki Tavo - "Believe in Your Hidden Powers and Spiritual Grandeur!"

Parashat Ki Tavo
Devarim 26:1 - 29:8
The Mitzvah of Bikurim in our Days – 
Dedicating the First and Best 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 KiTavo: “You shall bring the First-Fruits of your Land to the House of Hashem your G-d…”[5] 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…”[6] “The flute was played before them until they reached the Temple Mount. Once they reached the Temple Mount, even Agrippas the King would carry a 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!’[7] Immediately following the holiday of Shavuot, the farmers would rejoice by dedicating the beginning of their fruit harvest to Hashem.”[8]

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 Netivot 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 to be able to serve Hashem.”[18] The Biala Rebbe[19] 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 objective is never nullified, and our entire eating goes after our original intention at the beginning of the meal.

3. When you buy something new save it to use first time for Shabbat or for the upcoming holiday, to rejoice with it for the sake of Hashem. This applies both to a new fruit, a new interesting kind of food, or 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 make a conscious effort that its 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![20]

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

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Going out to Battle our Spiritual Enemies

Happy Birthday Rebbetzin!!
I connect with Parashat Ki Tetze in a special personal way, since it is my birthday parasha. I always like to keep busy, multi-tasking and striving to accomplish more and more. Interpersonal relationships and communication occupies a great part of my life. This fits in with our parasha, which is one of the busiest sections in the Torah including 74 mitzvot (27 positive and 47 nega­tive), more mitzvot than in any other parsha, mostly in the realm between people.

Parashat Ki Tetze opens with going out to battle. A recurrent theme in my life is the challenge to struggle against obstacles including people opposing my work. I have always been a fighter – from my teenage years at the dinner table, discussing Middle East politics with my father, (at that time I defended the “Palestinian” rights oy!) – to fighting the authorities for building permit for Midreshet B’erot Bat Ayin (that battle is now almost behind us, looking forward to hear good news soon!!!!).

From everything I’ve been through I have learned never to give up! This is the true essence of the Jewish people to remember as we approach Rosh Hashana and return to our true purpose. Therefore, the Torah reading of the first day of Rosh Hashana teaches us how the foundation of the Jewish people is based upon hope after despair manifested in the miraculous birth of Yitzhak. The essence of a Jew is never to give up. We have a G-d who loves us, and nothing whatsoever is too difficult for Him to do for us. The prophet reminds us to look at Avraham and Sarah as role-models for strengthening our emunah and overcoming depression and despair: “Look to the rock from where you are hewn...Look to Avraham your father and to Sarah that bore you...”[1] They were the first to teach the principle of faith and perseverance, which became the essential fiber through which the Jewish people is built.[2]

Now when the “King is in the Field” let us renew our emunah and pull ourselves out of whatever difficulty we may be going through and really ask Hashem from the depth of our pain to fulfill our needs, hopes, and aspirations, to redeem us NOW!

I hope you will find the meditation meaningful and helpful to build up your emunah and draw on your inner strength overcoming your spiritual inner enemies.  

Click here to donate to Midreshet B’erot Bat Ayin in honor of my birthday and of Rosh Hashana

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

Read Rebbetzin’s commentary to Haftorat Ki Tetze- "Comfort for the Bereaved Woman"

Parashat Ki Tetze
Devarim 21:10-25:19
Overcoming our Personal Enemies
This week’s parasha is about personal struggles. The Torah urges every Jew to wage war with our personal enemies especially at this time when we prepare for the New Year: “When you go forth to battle against your enemies, and Hashem your G-d deliver them into your hands and you take them captive.”[3] Why does the Torah state: “When you go out (תצא)…” rather than “When you go (תלך)to war?” Netivot Shalom explains that “When you go out” is directed at our neshama (soul) from the moment when it went out from the upper world, into this physical world, in order to fulfill our purpose by waging our personal war.[4]

The main reason we are sent into this world is to overcome our negative natural tendencies. If a day goes by without battling our negative inclination, it is considered as if we didn’t accomplish anything on that day. This is why the Torah verse states “your enemies” rather than just “the enemies.” For every person has a particular spiritual enemy to overcome. For this mission he is sent into the world.

Believing in our Ability to Succeed with Hashem’s Help
In order to succeed in this spiritual warfare, we need to believe in our ability to succeed. We must believe that Hashem supports us to become aware of our spiritual enemies and that He empowers us to overcome them. Our Torah verse continues “…Hashem your G-d deliver them into your hands” in order to drive home this emunah, that Hashem will give us the ability to succeed if we only “go out” and try our very best. Just as in a physical war, the soft-hearted fearful soldier was sent home,[5] likewise our ultimate success is contingent on not being afraid, because we believe that “Hashem our G-d is with us, He elevated us from Egypt.”[6] When we go out to war against our spiritual enemies through emunah in our ultimate victory, then “Hashem your G-d will deliver them into our hands.”

Finding our Purpose in the World
Sometimes I wish I was born in Arizal’s time. He would be able to take a quick look at my face and tell me exactly my purpose and mission in life. Most of my life I have been struggling to figure out my personal purpose in life – my tikun – that I was sent into the world to fix. Wouldn’t we all like to know exactly what we are supposed to achieve in our lives? Netivot Shalom explains that when we come to the upper world (until 120) we will be asked, “What did you accomplish in the world?” Even if we learned a lot of Torah, and fulfilled many mitzvoth, if we didn’t overcome our personal enemies, we didn’t fulfill our personal mission. Reading this gave me great chizuk, to be determined to find my own personal mission, and make a plan to fulfill it! Netivot Shalom explains that the cue to discover our personal enemies that we need to overcome in order to fulfill our purpose is looking for the area where our negative inclination is strongest. Our personal enemy is to be found where our negative inclination is overpowering us with otherworldly power. Our battle in life is to focus on overcoming this enemy. This is the entire purpose of our lives.

Going out of Ourselves – to Overcome our Spiritual Enemies
Just as in war it is not enough to know how to shoot, in order not to waste bullets, we also need to know how to aim and hit the bull’s eye. Therefore, we need to focus all our might on the point where the negative inclination is trying to overcome us the most. Just as the soldier enters into war ready to give over his life, if that’s what it takes, we too, need to be willing to go out of ourselves in complete mesirut nefesh (self-sacrifice, literally to hand over our soul) in order to overcome our personal enemy and achieve our rectification. This is why our parasha opens with “When you go out” – of yourself and your comfort zone, and your natural tendencies… Just as a soldier mustn’t fear or think about his wife and children or anything that distracts him from dedicating himself completely to warfare,[7] likewise we need to transcend everything that’s keeping us down, gather all our energy and focus on our spiritual goal, while turning away from the distractions that side-track us.

Going out of our Negative Habits
We may have formed negative habits in response to a certain negative situation we experienced as a child. That response can become habitual and then the habit can form our character.

Although habitual attitudes feel comfortable, we become their prisoners. They persist even after the negative environment to which they reacted has been left behind. Therefore, we won’t be able to overcome the “enemy” without going completely out of ourselves and our negative habits. In order to be successful, we need to totally “go out” of ourselves and transcend our situation and reality, just as Rambam teaches us to go to the other extreme.[8]

Overcoming our Enemies through Preemptive Action
“When you go out…” teaches us to be prepared, take preventative steps and go out towards the enemy before it takes us by surprise. Only “if you go out” and open war against your enemies will “Hashem your G-d deliver them into your hands.” It’s much easier to conquer our negative impulse before it has gotten a hold of us. Becoming aware of our personal weaknesses where our negative inclination is strongest is the first step in taking preventive means to overcome it. The next step is to make a realistic plan, and a firm decision to stick to it. During this month of Elul, Hashem empowers us to carry out our resolutions, overcome our personal enemies, and come closer to Him by fulfilling of our personal mission.

Make yourself comfortable and breathe several slow cleansing breaths in and out of your nose. Letting the chair take your weight relax, relax, relax even more. Focus on the process of recognizing and overcoming your inner enemies.

1. Become aware of the light above your head, your Keter – crown and umbilical connection to the higher realms.

2. Observe the consequences of your thoughts, attitude and actions. Imagine little black fast moving specks trying to enter your crown and invade you.

3. Try to identify these black specks; scrutinize deeply and carefully. Ask in your mind’s voice: “What created you?” Perhaps a lack of emunah, self-doubts, negative thoughts and confusion created these black specks? Do not suppress thoughts and feelings, but observe, discover and examine.

4. Allow the energy field of your crown to expand and push the black specks away, see them recede backwards one by one until they disappear. Focus again on your breath and feel at peace.

5. Visualize the light in your heart, in the shape of the most beautiful red rose, see the petals unfold. It’s the most exquisite rose, until little black bugs begin to eat away of its petals.

6. Look at the bugs under an imaginary microscope, scrutinize them and ask in your mind’s voice: “What created you?” Is it the hatred, anger, jealousy or grudge that I keep in my heart that gave birth to these destructive forces? Ask yourself: “What is behind the anger? What is behind the self-defeat? What is behind the emptiness?...”

7. Breathe into your question and know yourself, and your spiritual weakness. Hold the self-knowledge about your personal enemies and make a decision how to eradicate the enemies of your heart.

8. Breathe love into your heart. Recite in your heart: “I am loved and I give out love!”

9. Visualize a surge of light entering your heart, strengthening the rose to push out the black bugs, see them retract one by one, and the rose in your heart growing stronger and more beautiful. The redness increases, and its heavenly scent fills you more and more with every inhalation.

10. Keep breathing and focus on the light surrounding your feet, feel how your feet are firmly planted on the ground. Beauty is within, but something is in the way. What is the shadow blocking the light? Imagine your feet stumbling over a closed door. Are you ready to open the door?

11. Listen to where the words come from when you speak. What is the cause? Is it gossip, judgmentalness or another way to cover up your own insecurities?

12. Keep breathing into the closed door, and make a mental resolution to open the door. Allow your inner light to separate from your inner enemies, peel them off so your essence can radiate and shine! Now imagine you gather all your strength to open the door, and become bathed in your own highest hidden light!

13. When you are ready, open your eyes and with pen and paper in your hand write down, your revelation about your inner enemies, include a realistic plan to conquer them.

We always read Parashat Ki Tetze during the month of Elul, because it precedes the renewal of the year. Rosh Hashana celebrates the renewal of creation. Each person has a special purpose and rectification in each particular year. This is alluded to in the phrase, “When you go out” – when you go out from the previous year towards the New Year, “to battle your enemies” – meaning this is the time open war against the particular negative point within ourselves, in order to change, overcome our nature and open the door to enter the Book of Life!

[1] Yeshayahu 51:1-2.
[2] Rav Tzaddok of Lublin, Divrei Sofrim 16.
[3] Devarim 21:10.
[4] This entire Torah is based on Netivot Shalom, Parashat Ki Tetze, Ma’amar 1.
[5] Devarim 20:8.
[6] Devarim 20:1.
[7] Rambam, Mishna Torah, Hilchot Melachim, Chapter 7, Halacha 15.
[8] Rambam, Mishna Torah, Hilchot Deot, Chapter 1, Halacha 4.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

The Gatekeepers of our Soul

Sorting & checking grapes before they were turned into wonderful juice
The month of Elul is upon us. It calls us to soul-search and refine our life-routines, purifying the gates of our soul.

Ever since picking up the Netivat Shalom,[1] I have become addicted to his lucid parasha explanations, with their gentle Chassidic mussar (ethics) applicable for present-day life-transformations. So here again I present you with a Parasha Meditation based on the Netivat Shalom’s commentary of the gatekeepers of the soul that we are prompted to appoint.

The job of these gatekeepers is to guard the gates of our senses and ensure that we only hear what we are meant to hear, and notice the things we need to see for the sake of feeling thankful for our blessings while still being able to fix what needs correction. The gate of our mouth especially needs careful guarding both what enters it and the words that come out of our mouth. We can fashion certain criteria and questions for our gatekeepers to ask before they allow any sensation to pass the gates of our openings: the eyes, ears, nostrils and mouths. Before any words get past our lips, we can train the first gatekeeper to ask: “Is this kind?” That stops a lot of traffic immediately. Even if the words get past the first gatekeeper, we still need additional filtering questions. Let our second gatekeeper ask: “Is it necessary?” And for those words that qualify here too, the last gatekeeper asks: “Is it Hashem’s will?

I recommend doing chesbon hanefesh (soul-accounting) especially during the month of Elul. We can record the decisions of the judges of our gates and write down strategies for our spiritual “law enforcers” to carry out these decisions.

This week’s meditation is a walking meditation which can be practiced any time you walk from one place to another. It helps us get in touch with the sensations our senses meet throughout our environment and charge our gatekeepers to sift and monitor which sensations will pass the gates of our soul.

Shanah Tovah U’Metukah!

May you be inscribed in the Book of Life!
Chana Bracha Siegelbaum

Read Rebbetzin’s commentary to Haftorat Shoftim - "Tapping into Hashem’s Comforting Energy"

Parasha Meditation Shoftim 
Devarim 16:18-21:9 
Making Fences and Appointing Personal Judges of Spiritual Protection
“You shall appoint judges and police officers for yourself in all your gates that Hashem your G-d gives you…”[2] Although according to the simple meaning (peshat) the verse is directed at the community of Israel to appoint a righteous judicial structure, however, this verse is written in singular as if speaking to each of us personally. Netivat Shalom explains that each individual has his or her personal gates. We all have the gate of seeing, of hearing, of smelling, of speaking, eating and feeling. We need to make a fence around each of these gates and appoint judges and officers to guard them. The purpose of our guards is to ensure that we use our eyes, ears, nose and mouth only for the sake of Hashem.

Guarding the Gates of our Senses
Before looking at something our appointed “judges” need to determine if it is Hashem’s will or not to look at this particular thing. For example it is a mitzvah to look at a beautiful flower and feel awe for its creator, while it is prohibited to look at a person of the opposite sex that is not our spouse or immediate family in order to derive pleasure. The same goes for listening to the words of Torah and wisdom and closing our ears to gossip and Lashon Hara. Even the nose needs a gatekeeper, to smell the scents of Hashem’s mitzvot like fragrant herbs for Havdala, and refrain from purposely smelling foul odors. For many of us, the gate of the mouth, is the hardest to guard, allowing only the food and amounts that will give us energy to serve Hashem to enter the mouth, and only the words of wisdom and kindness to leave the gate of our mouth. The gatekeeper is our local police man, he knows and patrols our area. He chases off all those petty criminals that want to pick our pockets. We always need to have our gatekeeper's mobile number handy. He will help us say, “No, I am not interested in what you have to offer,” just as we would tell a salesman that knock on our door that we are not interested in purchasing what he is selling.

Training Our Eyes – Nipping Transgression in the Bud
When we appoint judges and officers at each of the seven gates of the apertures in our face, the “judge” weighs the matter carefully and comes to a final decision about what may enter the gates and what needs to be kept away. The “police officers” uphold the judge’s decision and reinforce proper fences and disciplines that will protect us from giving in to our yetzer hara (negative impulse). For example, the role of the “police-officers” is to help us learn “closing our eyes from looking at evil, which is the beginning of sin – the eye sees and causes the heart to desire, and the tool of action completes the matter.”[3] The rectification for the eyes is to train our eyes to look at everything in the world with awe, recognizing Hashem as the Creator of all, as it states: “Lift up your eyes on high, and see: who has created these?”[4]

Letting Our Gatekeepers Enter G-d-Consciousness Within
In addition to preventing negativity from entering, the job of the “judges” and “officers” is to enter G-d-consciousness into all of our gates, and ensure that they will bring you to “Hashem your G-d.” This is the meaning of the continuation of the opening verse of Parashat Shoftim: “…judges and officers …that Hashem your G-d gives you…” – If we rearrange the words slightly, this phrase can also be read to mean: “Judges and officers shall give (enter into you) Hashem your G-d.”[5]

Time for Spiritual Accounting
Now in Chodesh Elul is the time to really work on establishing new life routines conducive to entering Hashem into our lives. I recommend Chesbon HaNefesh (soul-accounting), taking a paper and pen to record the decisions of the “judge” we have appointed, giving written instructions to our gatekeepers. Let us determine which things we need to distance from the gates of our senses, and make a proper plan with appropriate fences to enable the “police-officers” of our personal gates execute the plan!

This Meditation is designed to build up and develop a relationship with your internal gatekeepers.

1. Stand with your spine upright and your shoulders relaxed, letting your arms hang naturally by your sides. Take a couple of long, slow and deep breaths. As you exhale, let go of any unnecessary tension, smile gently, and let your attention flow deep into your belly, your hips, legs and feet. Feel your connection to the earth under your feet.

2. Coordinate your breathing with taking small steps: Step forward with your right foot as you inhale; step forward with your left foot as you exhale; continue in this way. Focus your gaze gently on the ground in front of you. Walk in a relaxed way, slower than your usual walking.

3. As you continue to walk slowly with coordinated breath, become aware of everything on your way that meets your eyes. If you find your eyes resting with a twinge of jealousy on your neighbor’s home, car, garden or anything else belonging to someone else, call on your gatekeeper to help stop these feelings from entering the gates of your eyes.

4. Allow your gatekeeper to avert your gaze. Instead lift your eyes to the sky, look at the silver-laced clouds, and praise Hashem for their creation. Look for other things on your way that you recognize as G-d’s creation. Praise Hashem for being the Creator of the swift bird in the sky, the tall and stately tree, and the beautiful flower…

5. Become aware of the sounds that you hear all around you. Call on your gatekeeper to keep away and close your ears to your neighbor’s angry bad-mannered fight, the noise of the impatient beeping cars, a mother screaming at her kid. Instead open your ears to the song of the birds, the children’s prayer, and the sound of tree-branches blowing in the wind.

6. Notice the smells of your environment. Have your gatekeeper remove the dog’s poop on your path, and the smell of a leaking septic tank. Focus on the scent of the flowers on your way, the grass and the herbs as your brushing footstep release their scent.

7. Make a mental intention to become aware throughout your day of what goes in and out of your mouth. Intensions have a power and energy to attract whatever you put out there. Call on your gatekeeper to ask the following three questions before entering or exiting anything to and from your mouth: “Is this kind? Is it necessary? Is it Hashem’s will?

8. Return to your place with a heightened awareness and confidence in the power of your appointed internal gatekeepers to strengthen your resolve allowing only that which is kind, necessary and for the sake of Hashem to go through the gates of your eyes, ears, nostrils and mouth.

Our personal gates include our character-traits. Just as we need to repent from wrongdoing we need to repent from anger, hatred, jealousy, honor-seeking, lusts etc.[6] Therefore, it states, “May the evil return from his way,”[7] rather than “from his action.” The character traits are the way and the gates of a person.[8] Rav Yisroel Salanter taught that changing one midah is harder that mastering the entire Talmud. May we merit at this time, with the help of our faithful gatekeepers to purify even just an iota of our negative character-traits in order to truly enter Hashem’s presence into the gates of our soul!

[1] By Rabbi Shalom Noach Berezovsky, 1911- 2000. The Rebbe of Slonim zt"l and the leader of Slonim chassidut in Israel during the decades following the Holocaust.
[2] Devarim 16:18.
[3] Tur, Orach Chayim, Siman 1 – טור אורח חיים סימן א.
[4] Yesha’yahu 40:26.
[5] Netivat Shalom, Parashat Shoftim, p. 101.
[6] Rambam, Hilchot Teshuva 7:3.
[7] Yesha’yahu 55:7.
[8] Netivat Shalom, Parashat Shoftim, p. 101.