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.

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