Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The Month of Tishrei: Rectifying the Sense of Touch

Rebbetzin rejoicing with her sons
Wow! Tishrei is the highest of the highest. I feel like on a spiritual roller-coaster embraced and uplifted by Hashem’s love! I express this love towards my close family, by cooking, playing, singing, eating and rejoicing.

During the Tishrei Holidays we are like in a spiritual incubator – in between “end” and “beginning” – “harvest” and “sowing,” “living” and “rebirthing” absorbing all the lights and spiritual nutrients for the entire year. This is the time to take a break from our regular habits, and go with the flow. I went to hear a beautiful concert for women into past midnight, way past my “regular” bedtime, I slept long and missed my “regular” six am swimming at the pool, and I didn’t feel badly! I can begin anew and turn a new leaf in the book of my life.

Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach teaches that during the year the Torah is a heavy burden but after the pure and holy air of the Sukkah we grasp how much the Torah is light. I don’t carry the Torah, the Torah is carrying me! I realize that the Torah is not just telling me what to do and reminding me of what I’m doing wrong. Rather the Torah empowers me. The Torah believes in me, that I can become the holy of holiest.

This year I'd like to share with you some highlights on the cycle of the times based on Sefer Yetzira the most ancient book of Kabbalah attributed to Avraham our father. So read on if you would like to squeeze out some more drops of light for the last week remaining of the month of Tishrei.

Monthly Correspondences from Sefer Yetzira: The Book of Formation
Letter: למד /lamed 
Tribe: אפרים/Efraim
Sense: תשמיש/tashmish – Love making
Bodily part: מרה/mara – Gall bladder
Permutation: ו-ה-י-ה/vav/heh/yud/heh
Constellation: מאזנים/mo’oznaim – Libra

The Meaning of the Name: Tishrei
אֶרֶץ אֲשֶׁר הָֹשֵם אֱלֹהֶיךָ דֹּרֵשׁ אֹתָהּ תָּמִיד עֵינֵי הָֹשֵם
אֱלֹהֶיךָ בָּהּ מֵרֵשִׁית הַשָּׁנָה וְעַד אַחֲרִית שָׁנָה
“The eyes of Hashem your G-d are always upon it, from the beginning of the year until the end of the year” (Deuteronomy 11:12).

The name תשרי/Tishrei indicates that it is the beginning of a New Year, for it contains the letters of the word ראשית/Reishit – in the beginning. The letters of תשרי/Tishrei proceed in the opposite way starting with the last letter of the alphabet, because it is a month of judgment. The meaning of the Aramaic word “Tishrei” is atonement, enabling us to turn over a new leaf in life and begin afresh. Tishrei is called יֶרַח הָאֵתָנִים/yerach ha’eitanim – “the month of the strong” (I Melachim 8:2). In this month we receive the strength for the entire year.
כל השביעין חביבין לעולם למעלן השביעי חביב (מדרש רבה ויקרא פרשה כט פסקה יא)
“All sevens are dear” (Vayikra Rabbah 29:11).

This refers to the Month of Tishrei – the seventh month. The word “seven” is connected to being “satiated” and so is the month of Tishrei referred to as “the most satiated of months” for more than any other moth of the year it is full of holidays and Mitzvot.

The Letter Lamed
Lamed – the letter with which the month of Tishrei was created symbolizes the heart. Tishrei is regarded as the heart of the year as the heart receives and distributes the spiritual energy for the entire year. The letter lamed, being the only letter whose shape ascends above the upper boundary of the letters symbolizes the sublime opportunity to rise from the depths of sin to the greatest spiritual heights in this month. It reflects its great existential longing and aspiration to return to its ultimate and absolute source in the essence of G-d’s Infinite Being. This is the experience of the true teshuvah of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. G-d’s infinite light descends and becomes manifest in the two lameds of the lulav. The letter of Elul – yud together with the lamed of Tishrei spell out the Hebrew word לִי/lee – mine, for during this time we return to become Hashem’s, through the unification of G-d with Israel during the Tishrei Holidays. These letters are also respectively the first and the last letter of the word Yisrael, thus symbolizing that Yisrael is created to unify with Hashem.

The Sense of Love
During the month of Tishrei the unifying relationship between G-d and the Jewish people was formed. This is reflected through the intimate relationship between husband and wife. Perhaps we can say that during Elul we began dating Hashem, so to speak. On Rosh Hashana the cosmic engagement took place and on Yom Kippur we stood under the marriage canopy and received the Two Tablets of the Ten Commandment as a wedding gift. The seven days of Sukkot are the Sheva brachot (the traditional seven days wedding celebrations), and on Shemini Atzeret – all the guest go home and Hashem and the Jewish people unite privately as a married couple.

The Weekly Torah Portions of the Month
During the month of Tishrei we are rounding up the weekly Torah portions (parshiot) and beginning anew just as the year is coming to a full circle of blessings with the last Torah portion:
וְזֹאת הַבְּרָכָה /v’zot habracha – “This is the blessing,” and is born anew in this month with returning to the first Torah portion: בְּרֵאשִׁית /bereishit – “In the beginning”

The Astrological Sign: Libra
According to astrology, people born under the sign of Libra are especially blessed by harmonious and pleasurable feelings in marital relationships. Scales signifies the Day of Judgment that opens this month and dictates a period of soul searching, weighing the deeds of the past year. On the sixth day of creation, in the tenth hour, Adam was called to judgment. G-d told him,” Just as you are now standing before Me in judgment, so too in all of the generations to come, your descendents shall stand before Me in judgment on this day.”

The Tribe of the Month
The unity between the tribes of Yosef and Yehuda is indicated in the relationship between the month of Nissan (whose tribe is Yehuda) and Tishrei (whose tribe is Efraim). The judgment on the first of Tishrei is complemented by the grace of the month of Nissan. Efraim is the son of Yosef, the archetypal soul who had the power to elevate and sanctify sexuality, his son Efraim represents the power to procreate in marital union. The name Efraim derives from G-d’s first commandment to Adam on the day of his creation – the first of Tishrei “be fruitful and multiply” (Bereishit 1:28).

וַיְבָרֶךְ אֹתָם אֱלֹהִים וַיֹּאמֶר לָהֶם אֱלֹהִים פְּרוּ וּרְבוּ וּמִלְאוּ אֶת הָאָרֶץ וְכִבְשֻׁהָ
“G-d blessed them, and G-d said unto them, Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it” (Bereishit 1:28).

Spiritually, this mitzvah is performed in ongoing stages throughout all the holidays of Tishrei, from Rosh Hashana to Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah.

Whenever vav, heh precede yud, heh it indicates judgment. The permutation of the month of Tishrei spell out וְהָיָה /v’haya – “and it shall come to pass” In Scripture, this expression always indicate good tidings and happiness (Babylonian Talmud, Megillah 10b). True happiness comes to a person only after one goes through a period of toil and judgment. The first half of the month of Tishrei is set aside for judgment, and the second half which opens with Sukkoth – with Simchat Torah as its center piece – is a time of rejoicing. By means of this rejoicing expressed through the Simchat Beit Hashoevah (drawing the water for the altar of the Temple), we merit the drawing into ourselves the inspiration of the Holy spirit (Babylonian Talmud, Sukkah 50b). May it come to pass that our new year recently reborn will be a year of rejoicing and jubilation!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Within the Glorious Clouds of Divine Embrace

Rebbetzin at Ma'arat HaMachpela during 10 Days of Repentance
Sukkot is my favorite time when we open ourselves to go with the flow. The Sukkah teaches us the importance of being flexible and creative, to keep moving and growing, like Hashem’s Cloud of Glory which would be changing shape in its continual cycle of transformation. Throughout life unexpected things constantly come up to disrupt our routine and planning. When I first tried to prepare this meditation nothing came to mind. I had planned to use the only days available until my son would be home from yeshiva. 

My regular impulse was then to push myself nailed down to the computer in restless attempt to fill the screen with some kinds of inspiring wisdom. Yet, I let go, I went with the flow which was absent and settled for less demanding tasks. Perhaps I was not meant to come up with a new Sukkah meditation. I could easily circulate something from last year. Later the same day a flash came to me. I saw clearly the limitation of my planning. By making rigid plans I was assuming to be in charge. The I of my ego connected with this transient world had become blown up like a balloon ready to burst. As I accepted the limitations of my way, and “let go let G-d” – I felt supported by the Divine embrace of Hashem’s Clouds of Glory. 

I hope that the meditation below will also help you tune into Hashem’s Divine Sukkah Embrace.

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

Shabbat Chol HaMoed Sukkot Meditation
Together within Hashem’s Clouds of Glory
On Sukkoth we leave our more or less beautiful sturdy permanent houses and take shelter under the wobbly, rickety, flimsy, palm-branches exposed to the elements within boards or curtains that can hardly be called walls. As the halacha teaches, the leaves of the Sukkah roof-top must be transpar­ent enough so that the twinkle of sparkling stars will be visible within.[1] Thus on Sukkot we discard the shell of the reliable concrete material wall now contained within an ethereal substance – the Sukkah – which is the embodiment of the Clouds of Glory protect­ing us in the wilder­ness. Rich and poor alike we are all in the same boat/Sukkah. We are all together within Hashem’s Clouds of Glory. A cloud is a being which floats between existence and non-existence. You see its constantly changing shape moving along the sky. If you try to grab it, or hold on to it, you might walk right through it. Its borders are not defined, yet it is still hovering over us and protecting us at this very moment. These sheer walls and roof of the Sukkah, translucently teach us to see beyond the illusion of our inherent material­ism.

Everything Eventually Evaporates
How do we feel in awe of the Shechina surrounding us through the Clouds of Glory? How do we get in touch with the Divine Presence enveloping us at this very moment? In order to get in touch with the Divine we have to free ourselves from the מחיצות/mechitzot – the barriers which separate us from the essence of life. In reality the barriers of the material are in themselves nothing but cloudlike vapor as King Shlomo teaches: “Vanity of vanities, says Kohelet, vanity of vanities; all is vanity.”[2] The Hebrew word הֲבֵל/havel translated as vanity literally means “vapor.” Thus King Shlomo teaches us that all our material possessions in essence are “Futility of futilities, breath of breaths;’ vapor of vapors.” – Everything will eventually evaporate. The following parable illustrates this concept: A man approached one of the beggars of a group of blind beggars in the street and said: “Take this money and share it with the others.” However, he gave the beggar nothing. The others demanded their share of the money, which they thought he had received. Such is mankind – everyone strives for a share in the worldly pleasures they assume their neighbors have achieved. Yet in reality they achieved nothing – there is no true pleasure in the futilities of this world – “all is futile.”[3]

Dissolve Negativity
Things don’t exist unless we give them existence. They vaporize like the floating cloud, unless our inflexible mindset and words pin them down to a rigid reality. Enemies, sickness, jealousy, hatred, problems, none of them have permanent reality, but will float by us the same way as the cloud dissolves, merges and transforms itself in the everlasting sky. According to halacha people who are not usual guests in a certain person’s home should not visit him the first three days when he is sick, in order not to establish his status as being sick, and thereby make his chances of recovery harder.[4]

Evaporating Evil by Meditating on the Only One
A story is told by the Debresciner Rav about how the Brisker Rav escaped with his family from Nazi Europe. Two weeks before, they began to prepare by learning the twelfth chapter of Part three in Nefesh Hachaim.[5] With a car and hired driver they miraculously passed one roadblock after another. At the border crossing, a gestapo peered into the car. “Why, these are Jews! He exclaimed and went to summon his commanding officer. In the meantime, the Brisker Rav gently reprimanded his family, “Who stopped meditating on “אין עוד מלבדו”/ein od milvado – “Nothing exists but G-d”? When the commanding officer arrived, he looked in the car and said, “I see no problem here,” and motioned them across the border.

The Human Soul: Hashem’s Eternal Breath
In contrast to the transient nature of the material world, only that which is touched by the Divine breath has eternal value. “I realized that whatever G-d does will endure forever: Nothing can be added to it and nothing can be subtracted from it, and G-d has acted so that [man] should stand in awe of Him.”[6] What is transient and trivial is the handiwork of man – His buildings and baubles, his ambition and glory are nothing more than “Hevel” futility, substance-less vapor. Yet, the human soul was not fashioned from dust as was his body. וַיִּפַּח בְּאַפָּיו נִשְׁמַת חַיִּים “G-d breathed into his nostrils a living soul.”[7] מאן דנפח מדידיה נפח/man d’nafach m’tochia nafach – Whoever breathes – breathes from within himself.[8] Because G-d is eternal, the human soul is eternal; and it will be called upon to answer for the deeds done while it was clothed in its earthly body. Since the only meaningful, everlasting part of the human’s existence is his soul and the spiritual good it brings about, Kohelet urges that indulgence in non-essential pleasures is worthless. The only thing that has everlasting existence is awe of G-d – יראת אלוקים/yirat Elokim. “The sum of the matter, when all has been considered: Fear G-d and keep His commandments, for that is man’s whole duty.”[9] The essentials of Divine existence are eternal, and the Creator imparted within humanity a vital role in His perpetual master plan.

Dwelling in the House of G-d
During our forty years wandering in the wilderness Hashem protected us with His Clouds of Glory. There were seven clouds, above, below, at the four sides, and one before them. These clouds protected us by killing snakes and scorpions, straightening the mountains and the valleys for us, and burning the thorns. They would bring up smoke, and all the kings of the east and the west would see it, and the nations of the world would say “Who is this coming out of the wilderness like columns of smoke...” [10] These same protective glorious clouds are still with us today in the Sukkah – the house of Hashem. Through developing ביטחון/bitachon – trust in Hashem and meditating on experiencing His protecting Clouds we will come close to dwelling in His palace. The Midrash teaches that “His left hand below my head”[11] refers to both the Clouds of Glory which surrounded Israel from above and from below[12] and to the Sukkah.[13] “…And his right hand embraces me”[14] refers to the Cloud of the Shechina in the future.[15] The Sukkah is likened to the Divine embrace. According to halacha, in order for the Sukkah to be kosher, it must have at least two walls and a tefach – a handbreadth of a third wall. The “two walls” and a “handbreadth” are likened to an arm providing a great loving hug. These three walls also form the shape of the Hebrew letter ה/heh.

Sukkah Meditation
1. Make yourself comfortable in the Sukkah, and take in its marvels with all of your senses.

2. Allow your eyes to glide and gaze upon the beauty of the walls, and the sechach (Sukkah roof). Keep in mind that the word Sukkah means to see.[16] Look all around you and really see the beauty of Sukkot!

3. Listen to the sounds you hear in the Sukkah, and let them pass by you. Tune in to the songs of the birds or the wind rustling in the leaves above.

4. Open yourself to smell the heavenly scents of the Sukkah, perhaps the foliage in the Sukkah gives off a scent, and perhaps you can sense a scent of beyond.

5. Take a deep breath in as you turn your head upwards and raise your eyes to look at the sechach. Exhale as you lower your head and your eyes to an inward gaze. Repeat this rhythmical breathing. The word Sukkah and sechach are related. The Sukkah is named for its roof which completes it.[17] When you gaze upon the sechach you are taking in the entire Sukkah.

6. Continue breathing in while turning your head upwards and raising your eyes, and breathing out while lowering your head and eyes.

7. Now add the silent sound of Sukah to your breathing. Inhale סו/Su, exhale כה/kah. As you inhale feel the security of Hashem’s protection surrounding you like the circular shape of the Hebrew letter ס/samech, and as you exhale visualize the samech open up into the Hebrew letter כ/kaf – your personal vessel to hold Hashem’s inner lights, and then the letter ה/heh – the shape of the three required walls of the Sukkah. Repeat this rhythmical breathing and visualization seven times.

8. Close your eyes and imagine the walls of your home expanding and opening up, and then as you go through these walls, additional walls appear of stone, wood or any other material you can think of. As you inhale you imagine a new wall appearing, as you exhale you imagine breaking through the wall. Repeat this rhythmical breathing and visualization until you break through seven walls.

9. Feel a very soothing warming light surrounding you. Sense the presence of Hashem’s light below your head and around your shoulders. Relax into a very soothing Divine embrace. Feel very safe and supported, resting in yourself, floating within the Clouds of Hashem’s soothing Glory. Enjoy feeling loved and protected. Feel how all your needs are taken care of. Delight in Hashem’s Divine presence. Experience the moment right now! You are dwelling in the house of Hashem!

New needs arise at different times for every person such as the need for healing, for financial security, to be saved from enemies etc. King David declared: “אַחַת שָׁאַלְתִּי”/achat sha’alti – “I asked for only one thing”[18] – “I do not ask for many things. I only asked one request in the past, this request I will always ask in the future; for in this request all requests are included. This request is “to dwell in the house of Hashem” “כָּל יְמֵי חַיַּי”/kol yemei chayai – “all the days of my life.”[19] By means of this sole request, I will achieve all my particu­lar needs...[20] When we dwell in Hashem’s Sukkah, under His Clouds of Glory, and learn to understand the transient nature of everything connected to this world and its temporary pleasures, then we realize that all that matters is to cleave to Hashem and pray that we may dwell in His house forever.

[1] Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim, Siman 626.
[2] King Shlomo, Kohelet 1:2.
[3] Parable of the Maggid of Dubno.
[4] Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 193, the laws of visiting the sick.
[5] By Rav Chaim of Volozhin (1759-1829), top student of the Gaon of Vilna and founder of the Volozhin Yeshiva.
[6] Kohelet 3:14.
[7] Bereishit 2:7.
[8] Rav Shemuel Toledano, Tangiers, ספר מבוא לחכמת הקבלה Introduction to the Wisdom of Kabbalah, part 2:2.
[9] Kohelet 12:13.
[10] Shir Hashirim 3:6, Midrash Tanchuma, Bamidbar, Chapter 2.
[11] Shir Hashirim 2:6.
[12] Midrash Zuta Shir Hashirim 2.
[13] Midrash Rabah Shir Hashirim 2:19.
[14] Shir Hashirim 2:6.
[15] Midrash Rabah Shir Hashirim 2:19.
[16] Rashi, Bereishit 11:29.
[17] Tur, Orach Chaim, Siman 635.
[18] Tehillim 27:4.
[19] Ibid.
[20] Malbim, Tehillim 27:6.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Yonah – A Lesson of Self-awareness

Dear Friends,
Hope you had a spirited prayerful Rosh Hashana, as we did here at Midreshet B'erot Bat Ayin, where more than twenty women prayed, learned, shared words of Torah, sang and crowned Hashem together. For some of the participants this was their first religious Rosh Hashana experience. Many of the women told me personally how moved and inspired they were from our Rosh Hashana celebration. 

Now we look forward to face Hashem and ourselves on Yom Kippur. For me, the highlight has always been the story of Yonah, followed by the neilah service. I have put together some deeper explanations on the book of Yonah for you, based on my teachings for many years. I hope my writing will help you connect to your Neshama (soul), as Yonah is a parable for our soul.

Shana Tovah U'Metukah!
May your year be good and sweet!
G’Mar Chatimah Tovah!

May you be sealed in the book of life, of fruitfulness and excitement, connectedness, love, youthfulness, health, fulfillment and shalom!
Chana Bracha 

On Yom Kippur afternoon, after having been praying, fasting and elevating our souls, we gather to hear the mysterious story of Yonah, the fleeing prophet. Through this story, we are propelled to face Hashem in the deepest, innermost way, during the final neilah prayer – the peak of the Yom Kippur service. Much more than an intriguing children’s story, Yonah refers to the soul, dispatched by G-d into the body, in order to learn to find Hashem, even in the furthermost places (Zohar 2, 199a). Like Yonah, each one of us is sent down to earth in order to fulfill a specific mission, however, we spend most of our lives running away and hiding from our inner selves. Whether we are lead astray by fallen pleasures (represented by Tarshis –Alshich, Yonah 1:3), exterior voices of self-righteousness (“I knew it!” – Yonah 4:2), depression, or despair, (“take, please, my life from me” – Ibid. 3), we are all, eventually, called to face our innermost being, where the Divine resides. After having peeled off layer by layer of kelipot – exterior shells during the ten days of repentance, and the repeated Vidui (confession) sessions, we got to the core when the story of Yonah prompts us to face ourselves.

Who am I really and where am I Headed?

The four questions posed by the captain to Yonah, (1:8) are really four questions that envelop every Jew throughout the stages of our lives. מַה מְּלַאכְתְּךָ –“What is your work?” Is your task on earth to just work for the sake of receiving a salary, or to serve G-d in your particular way? מֵאַיִן תָּבוֹא –“Where do you come from?”Did you emanate only from a drop of semen, that you should cling to worldly pleasures, or are you a creation of G-d sent directly from the Garden of Eden? מָה אַרְצֶךָ – “What is your country?” Are you a mortal creature of earth, or an immortal being from the Land of Life? אֵי מִזֶּה עַם אָתָּה – “Of what people are you?” What is your responsibility as a Jew in the world? These verses are reflected in the voice of our conscience stirring from within, asking ourselves why we are here, why we were sent, and what we have done with our life? Through Yonah’s answers, “I am a Hebrew; and I fear Hashem the G-d of heaven, who has made the sea and the dry land” (ibid. 9), we recover a glimmer of purpose: I am here to fulfill the mission of Hashem.

From the Very Place of Escape We Ultimately Return to Hashem and Ourselves
On the journey towards ourselves, we often have to go down to the depths like Yonah. In chapter 1, the root ירד (going down) appears four times, twice in verse 2 and twice in verse 5. It is interesting to note that also the word for going to sleep – וַיֵּרָדַם derives from the root “to go down.” Sleep is the ultimate going down, the ultimate escape. However, within the ultimate depths of sleep is a kernel of closeness to G-d, since dreams are one sixtieths of prophesy (Babylonian Talmud, Berachot 57b). Though Yonah may be escaping the reality of life, he is ultimately bringing himself closer to his inner world, where nothing exists but Hashem. “One pursues something by running away from it” (Adam Phillips). It often happens in life, that our fears become self-fulfilling prophesies. Wherever we escape to, we are challenged with the very same issue from which we escaped. Yonah, as an escape artist, teaches us that just as you cannot run away from G-d, neither can you run away from others or from yourself. Yonah was running away from helping the gentiles to repent, yet through his very escape, he actually caused the sailors to convert (Rashi, Yonah 1:16). Until we have completed the tikun with a particular person, that archetype will re-appear in our lives, the more we try to avoid dealing this type of person.

Innate Fear of the Intimacy of Being Present
Ibn Ezra noticed that the word ברח – to escape, is usually connected with the word מפני. Only in the book of Yonah does it appear together with the word מִלִּפְנֵי. Yonah wasn’t just running away from Hashem, he was running away from beingמִלִּפְנֵי ה' – before/in the presence of Hashem (Yonah 1:3). The word Yonah also means dove. Our soul is like a bird trapped in the cage of our routine. Just as our habits trap and block us from self awareness, so does the desire to fly away/ flee, on the other end of the spectrum take us away from standing before G-d. The עמידה – the silent prayer, literarily “the standing,” is our central prayer, especially on Yom Kippur, when we are standing and acknowledging that we cannot fly. In our effort to stand in the presence of G-d, we recognize our fear to be present and our tendency to run away from becoming keenly aware of our dependency on Hashem’s constant grace. Like Yonah, we cannot bear to recognize that our existence hangs between life and death. We quickly move forward into the thought that everything will be alright without realizing that true emunah is accepting that even if it’s not going to be “alright,” it is still really alright.

In a class with Aviva Zornberg many years ago, I learned that Yonah’s prayer from within the fish is actually an after-prayer, escaping from the presence of Hashem. Although Yonah is in mortal danger, and the fish could become his grave, unless Hashem saves him. Nevertheless, he prays in the past tense as if he was already saved. “I was in trouble and you saved me.” The merciful [Hashem] wants our heart” (Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 106b). He wants our attentiveness, readiness, intimacy, desire and even fear. Any kind of pain is really a wake up call, towards awareness of feeling and being in the present. Just as G-d prepared – וימן storm/fish /wind/castor-oil-plant/worm, for Yonah, He continues to insert experiences into human time, in order to make us feel this and that, so that we become really present in the moment.

Playing Mind Games with Hashem
The book of Yonah has exactly 48 verses which is the numerical value of the word מח – brain. There is an inner struggle in the book of Yonah between mind and heart. Rabbi Rivlin explains that the nature of prophets is to express emet – truth. The blessings of the haftorah from the prophets read:
שרצה בדבריהם הנאמרים ...באמת ובנביאי האמת והצדק
– Who has chosen their faithful [true] words… in the truth of the prophets of truth and justice…”

With our minds we are trying to grasp truth and justice. Although not always possible, we try to make sense out of what we see in this world. Most of the times, we forget that our mind is so limited. Even the prophet is far from understanding the way Hashem runs His world. He can only see what Hashem allows him to see. Yonah is בן אמתי –the son of truth (Yonah 1:1). Yonah “disagreed” with G-d, maintaining the importance of truth rather than chesed. Chesed can be disturbing from the vantage point of justice, and teshuva isn’t really fair. Why should the wicked people be saved? Don’t they deserve to be punished? “They asked Prophecy, ‘What is the punishment of sinners?’ She told them, ‘The soul of the sinner will die.’ They asked the Holy One ‘What is the punishment of the sinner?’ He answered ‘Let him do teshuva and be atoned for’” (Jerusalem Talmud, Makot 7a). When Yonah recounts from the thirteen principles of Hashem’s mercy, he leaves out the word אֱמֶתֹ – emet – truth (Yonah 4:2). Yonah was insinuating that G-d was too kind to the people of Nineve. His mercy and forgiveness are not truly deserved by the people of Nineve, since their teshuva is not a true teshuva. The order of the words חנון ורחום – gracious and merciful – are inverted, perhaps in order to emphasize the word חנון which means מתנת חינם- a free gift. Just as Yonah seems to know better than Hashem what is just and fair, we, too, play mind games with Hashem. In truth, the gift of teshuva and atonement is never really fair, for who can claim to repent in the deepest and truest way?

Hashem’s Love Beyond Grasp and Discernment
Hashem touches Yonah’s heart through the growth of the castor oil plant, but it immediately wilts. He experiences on his own body how the world cannot continue through truth and judgment without chesed. Just as Yonah is unable to exist unprotected against the sun, so is the world unable to exist under G-d's justice alone. A veil between G-d's justice and His creation is necessary, in order that the creation will not be consumed by fire. This veil also conceals G-d's presence in the world, and makes it impossible for us to fully understand G-d's ways. Trying to grasp with our mind, rather than feeling and experiencing is a way of escaping Hashem. In our attempt to grasp Hashem’s ways, we are taking control rather than allowing ourselves to experience how we are being controlled by Hashem. On the Day of Atonement, it is encouraging to know how G-d will accept our teshuva even if it is far from being perfect. On Yom Kippur, G-d's unconditional love for us is manifested beyond reason. It is our job to receive and surrender, rather than trying to grasp Hashem’s ways. Perhaps, this is why the book of Yonah ends in a most absurd question: “…and should not I have pity on Nineveh, that great city, wherein are more than six-score thousand persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand, and also much cattle?” (Yonah 4:11).

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Finding Hashem in the Very Darkest Darkness

Yom Kippur - feel the best ever
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! 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. This is the main preparation for the High Holidays to recognize that we Jews are never ever lost. We are forever the children of Hashem, our G-d for all eternity!

May Hashem forgive you and grant you complete atonement!
May we all together be sealed in the Book of Life!

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

Read Rebbetzin’s Haftorah commentary for Shabbat Teshuva (the Shabbat between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur) - "Repairing the Gaps"

Parasha Meditation Parashat Ha’azinu
Devarim 32:1-52
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.”[1]

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/v'tishma – “will hear”?

Netivot Shalom explains that the heavens allude to the neshama (soul) of which the klipot (husks) have no ability to seize. Therefore, the neshama always gives ear to the heavenly voice (Bat Kol) which goes out daily. When the neshama listens, then it follows that “the earth will hear the words of my mouth” – meaning that also the body will hear on its own. The body is otherwise far from hearing because it is entrenched within the physical world, occupied in material matters. However, the neshama will surely give ear, since it is 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.”[2] By means of our soul giving ear, then even the body will become aroused. At that point our spiritual work is only to hold on to this arousal without letting it go – אֲחַזְתִּיו וְלֹא אַרְפֶּנּוּ/achaztiv v’lo arpenu – I will hold on to Him and not let go of Him.[3]

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.[4]

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.”[5] The usual interpretation of this Torah verse is that it is necessary to first turn away from wrongdoing in order to become 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, or 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.”[6] 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/nachat ruach) 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.[7]

Between Incomplete and Complete Confession
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 mitzvah in the Torah, whether on purpose or unintentionally, when he repents he is obligated to confess before G-d, as it states, ‘A man or a woman if they transgressed any sin…they must confess the sin they committed…’[8] 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.’”[9]

Breaking through the Veils to Face Hashem
For a Jew the worst punishment is to feel that G-d is far from us. We are called to believe that even an iron curtain does not have the power to separate between Israel and our Father in Heaven. G-d dwells with us even in our impurity.[10] 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.[11] When the yetzer hara (negative impulse) 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, is the feeling that the sin has caused us to become separated from Hashem, and that there is no remedy for this. This way we cause ourselves to be distant and detached from Hashem. That 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?”[12] 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…”[13] – from the depths of the klipah (husk).[14] Even when we are in the depths of the husk, Hashem is with us in our constricted state. [15] “However much a Jew sinned, he still remains a Jew!”[16] “Even an iron curtain has no power to separate between Israel and our Father in Heaven.”[17] However, the yetzer hara still tries to entice us into 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”/Haster Astir panai – “I will doubly hide my face”[18] The first hiding is by means of the actual sin committed, the second hiding is by means of the sin of despair caused by the first sin.[19]

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).[20] The fog was the darkest separation, nevertheless “Moshe drew near unto the fog (thick darkness) where G-d was.”[21] The numerical value of the Hebrew word “הָעֲרָפֶל – the arafel” (fog) equals “השכינה – the Shechinah.”[22] 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 especially 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, לְפָנֶיךָ חָטָאתִי, עָוִיתִי, פָּשַׁעְתִּי/chatati, aviti, pashati lefanecha – 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 /choshech 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/anan. 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/arafal – 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.

[1] Devarim 32:1.
[2] Shemot Rabah, 41:7.
[3] Shir HaShirim 3:4.
[4] Netivot Shalom, Parashat Ha’azinu p. 119.
[5] Tehillim 34:15, 37:27.
[6] Rambam, Mishna Torah, Hilchot Deot Chapter 2: Halacha 3, Halacha 7.
[7] Netivot Shalom, Parashat Ha’azinu p. 120
[8] Bamidbar 5:6-7.
[9] Rambam, Hilchot Teshuva, chapter 1: halacha1.
[10] Babylonian Talmud, Yoma 56b.
[11] Yesha’yahu 59:2.
[12] Tehillim 22:2
[13] Ibid. 130:1.
[14] The Rebbe of Kovrin.
[15]“עמו אנכי בצרה” (Tehillim 91:15).
[16] Ibid. Sanhedrin 44a.
[17] Babylonian Talmud, Pessachim 85b.
[18] Devarim 31:18.
[19] Netivot Shalom, Parashat Vayelech, p. 111.
[20] Devarim 4:11.
[21] Shemot 20:18.
[22] I Melachim 8:12.