Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Secret of Remarriage without Haste

Another beautiful Bat Ayin sunset
The Secret of Remarriage: 
Taking Time to Build Eternal Links

It’s not the first time it happened that one of our students my age came to speak with me with stars in her eyes, and I just knew it, “there is a man in your life!” To her excited confirmation I could only plead, “Please don’t rush into getting engaged right away.” “It’s too late,” was her reply. “The wedding has already been planned for next week.” In these kinds of cases it is difficult to speak sense to the mesmerized middle aged woman, who is in a trance of excitement. The man in her life insists they need to get married the day after tomorrow, the Kabbalist agrees that now is a special favorable time and he gives his enchanted blessing. My question remains: What do you gain from rushing into a second or third marriage?

Relying Completely on the Kabbalist
How dare I refute the Kabbalist, what do I have to my defense against such a holy man guided by Ruach Hakodesh (Divine Inspiration)? Aren’t you supposed to trust that he knows everything and sees into the future and understand the underlying compatibility throughout the reincarnations of the two souls presented before him?

As much as I believe in the importance of Emunat Chachamim – faith in our true sages, Hashem gave us emotional and intellectual capacities to employ in decision making taking full responsibility for our own lives. The importance of free choice is emphasized in the Torah. “You must choose life…”[1] Hashem expects us to be levelheaded and sensible when it comes to choosing the direction of our personal lives. We entrust our halachic questions to the Rabbis and follow their instructions for keeping the Torah laws. Sure, Kabbalists can be helpful in opening spiritual blockages in our lives, yet the directive to be “wholehearted with Hashem”[2] precludes using Kabbalists as oracles and soothsayers. Today, neither a Rabbi nor a Kabbalist are prophets. They can give their general approval for a match, and it’s always recommended to seek out blessings from the righteous and learned including authentic Kabbalists. However, today, the world is filled with pseudo kabbalists so one needs to be very careful. Certainly, it’s not the Jewish way to renounce our own responsibility over our lives and defer it entirely to the forecast of any Kabbalist.

The Now or Never Ultimatum
It seems to me that there is a pattern of the personality types who rush into marriage. The woman is usually afraid that if she doesn’t take the opportunity now then she may never get married. Often this kind of woman has a very low self-esteem and may even have a history of being abused. She is willing to take a risk to fill her dejected void to get out of her unbearable loneliness. For me a red light instantaneously turns on when the man projects a ‘now or never ultimatum.’ It is as if he wants to catch the woman in his net and fears that if she would get to know him better she may not agree to marry him. A wise Rabbi[3] once taught me a method to identify the yetzer hara (negative impulse). If you feel an urgency to have something right away, compelling, pushing and urging you on, beware as this is an indication that the source of your compulsion stems from the yetzer hara. If the man that you desire head over heels today is truly your match from heaven (zivug), then he will not run away the day after tomorrow. I try to tell the woman who is rushing into a new marriage, “You deserve your time – the time it takes to ensure that a life with this man will be fulfilling for you on all levels.”

Haste is Waste
Marriage is the most important event in the life of a man or woman; it leaves an indelible imprint on one's entire life. Such a decision requires considerable thought and cannot be done in haste.[4] What can you lose from taking your time to check out the man carefully to find out if your goals and lifestyles are compatible? In addition you must ask yourself deeply if you really are ready to go into this new relationship. Have you thoroughly healed from your past relationships to the extent that you will not be 'on the rebound' of a first or second divorce.[5] You must carefully get to know your future spouse and find out whether he too has recovered from emotional injuries of past relationships. It is reasonable to expect that the man you want to marry has a functional relationship with his ‘ex’ and a healthy relationship with his children, who he spends time with in a regulated scheduled fashion. Don’t throw yourself into a marriage with the illusion that you will be able to clear up all of his emotional mess. If the life of the man of your desire is in terrible disarray, you will most likely become another twisted string in his bundle of entangled, knotted, disheveled life.

Go Out As Many Times as Necessary to Ensure a Healthy Remarriage
Statistics have shown that in the U.S. 50% percent of first marriages, 67% of second, and 73% of third marriages end in divorce.[6] Therefore, careful healing, and planning are necessary before remarrying. In order to thoroughly heal, it is advisable that both of the prospective marriage partners have gone through extensive therapy from past relationships, before stepping under the Chuppah (marriage canopy) again. In addition, it is important to take the time to gradually get familiarized with the lifestyle of the man you intend to marry, and the people in his life. The relationship with step children is very delicate, therefore, take the time to get to know each of his children and allow them to ease into and get used to the upcoming change in their father’s life, before consummating the transformation. In conclusion, don’t be miserly with regard to the number of times you go out to see [your prospective marriage partner].[7]

Soldering the Hooks of Starting All Over
This week’s parasha is the last one describing the Mishkan – the holy tabernacle through which Hashem’s Shechina (Feminine Divine Indwelling Presence) would fill the world. A marriage is also a sanctuary for the Shechina. A careful comparison of the different accountings made in Parashat Perkudei reveals surprisingly that there is a more detailed accounting of the copper and silver than of the gold. Copper was used for the tent pegs, and silver for both the clasps connecting the tent of the Mishkan and the hooks for hanging the curtains of the courtyard.[8] Although the golden menorah and the ark with its cherubs are much more glamorous, we must not forget the seemingly insignificant hooks which connected the entire Mishkan and without which, everything would fall apart. One of the differences between the Golden Calf and the Mishkan is the Mishkan’s ability to be taken apart and joined together anew. When broken down the Golden Calf leaves only dust and ashes. An eternal link must possess the flexibility to be rejoined after coming apart. This ability symbolizes humanities willingness to start anew. It is indeed commendable that even after being so broken by previous relationships people are willing to pick themselves up without being afraid to start matrimony anew. However, I cannot emphasize enough the importance to take the time to carefully solder the hooks into eternal links first. You can create these links by learning deeply from past injuries, to the degree that you really understand in the very fiber of your being what went wrong. To understand a matter requires being able to take it apart and put it together again. That is the secret of remarriage.

Blessings of Transforming the Brokenness into Eternal Connection
“And of the thousand seven hundred and seventy five shekels he made hooks for the pillars…”[9] A hook is called a vav in Hebrew. The letter vav when used as vav hachibur (the connecting vav) can also mean “and.” Vav is called ‘letter of truth’ (Ot Emet)[10] according to Kabbalah. אֱמֶת /emet – truth includes the first last and middle letter of the Hebrew alphabet to indicate that truth is to see the whole picture, without leaving anything out. When we rush into things we often miss out on important information. We don’t always see the full picture but hold on to a wishful apparition created by our hopeful expectations. We need to take the time to face even the flaws of the prospective, and speak to a friend of his ‘ex’ to hear the other side of the story. Only when we connect all the pieces and see the whole picture, are we well equipped to forge an new everlasting relationship. It is said that the second set of the Torah tablets were never broken, because the commands were connected with connecting vavs. I bless all divorced women to build new hooks from the brokenness of previous relationship(s) into eternal links that will endure the storm, rain and snow of the upcoming eternal bond of marriage. May you be able to ease into your new marriage step by step after having taken the time to build the secure foundation consisting of your broken pieces fused carefully into eternal links!

[1] Devarim 30:19.
[2] Devarim 18:13.
[3] The French Rabbi Yochanan Lederman teaching in Diaspora Yeshiva in 1979.
[4] Igros Kodesh, Vol. IV, p. 272.
[7] Igros Kodesh of the Rebbe Rayatz, Vol. XII, p. 113.
[8] Shemot 38:10, 28:11, 38:17, 38:19, 38:20.
[9] Shemot 38:28.
[10] Zohar, part 3, p. 2a.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Adar: The Blessed Month of Transformation

Rebbetzin on tour in Johannesburg
During the month of Adar, I am usually on my go-around- annual North America tour, even though its often freezing especially in Montreal. I believe the reason Hashem sends me during Adar most years is because Adar is known to be the month of success and victory. The Talmud advises us to try to schedule any litigation with a gentile for the month of Adar, because the month of Adar is described as having a good fortune, literally a מזל בריא/mazal bari – healthy constellation, to give them hope for a good end.[1] Yet, in truth, the word mazal doesn’t mean fortune or luck but rather ‘that which flows down from Above’ as the Hebrew word mazal shares the same root as the word ‘nozel’ – flowing. When I grew up in Denmark in an assimilated Jewish family, I was taught that Judaism does not believe in astrology. Later, after returning to the Torah path I learned that this was not really the case. However, it is understandable that in order to ensure that Jews distance themselves from worshipping the stars and constellations it became widespread to simplify and declare that Judaism is against astrology. In fact עכו”ם /akumoved kochavim u’mazalot – a worshipper of stars and constellations is a way to describe a non-Jew in Torah commentaries. According to the Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law) “We do not consult astrological forecast or cast lots.”[2] However, Rabbi Moshe Isserless adds that a person ought not to act against what he knows is the astrological influences, (mazal) because one must not rely on miracles.[3] From here we learn that the Torah clearly gives credit to the power of astrology.

So going out of the Holy Land to gentile countries seems to be appropriate, as well, for the month of Adar. These annual tours are like a cold shower for me, I need to muster up a lot of courage to jump in, but once I’m in its so refreshing. Baruch Hashem I have been so fortunate during most of my tours, being able to sustain my midrasha with overflowing blessings. This year, however, I felt a huge spiritual blockage against planning my tour during the month of Adar, and it wasn’t only because my new book The Seven Fruits of the Land of Israel with their Mystical & Medicinal Properties wasn’t going to be published by then. Something just didn’t feel right so I went with my intuition and rescheduled for right after Pesach, April 27-May 14, and it was amazing how everything opened up for this time. Meanwhile, I felt the urge to take advantage in some way of the double month of Adar this year and that’s how I planned my South Africa travel for Feb 14-20. With Hashem’s blessing my itinerary filled up quickly, and my tour was very successful. It was so exciting to travel to a new place and meet new people.

Please read on and learn more about Judaism & astrology, the spiritual attributes of the month of Adar...

Judaism & Astrology
It is interesting to note that all the Hebrew months correspond to the astrological signs, for example the month of Tishrei corresponds to the symbol of the balanced scales of Libra, the month of Sivan when we received the two tablets of the Torah corresponds to Gemini with its symbol of twins, and the month of Elul when we work on repentance and purity corresponds to the Virgo. The Rabbis throughout the times believed in the wisdom of astrology and that Hashem appointed the stars and constellations over the earth. G-d didn’t create any creation in vain; the heavenly lights were created in order to be signs and constellations for the world on earth.

G-d said: ‘Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days and years; and let them be for lights in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth.’ And it was so. G-d made the two great lights: the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night; and the stars.[4] The fourteenth century commentator Rabbeinu Bachaya a student of the Ramban explained the importance of the wisdom of astrology thus:

Although it states, אין מזל לישראל /Ein mazal l’Yisrael – “There is no astrological sign for Israel,”[5] it refers to the general community of Israel. However regarding the individuals, there is astrological influence for each person. Behold the wisdom of astrology is a very great and glorious wisdom, and our Rabbis do not at all deny it.[6]

There are many other references to astrology in the Torah for example our Sages teach, “There is no blade of grass in the world below that does not have a spiritual life-force (mazal) above striking it and telling it to grow.”[7] Mazal means constellation, or more specifically, the spiritual influences associated with the signs of the Zodiac. The patriarch Avraham was expert in astrology and saw in his constellation that he was destined to remain childless. However, Hashem told him to leave his astrological sign.” Rashi explains “He took him outside…”[8] meaning: “Dissociate yourself from your astrological predictions.”[9] The Holy One raised him above the stars. Avraham’s ability to be above the zodiac derived from the power of the letter “heh” added to his name, corresponding to the five books of the Torah. Every Jew inherits this power when he learns Torah in order to fulfill the mitzvot. He then nullifies the power and influence of the constellations, for the Torah itself transcends the world.

The Spiritual Attributes of Adar
He made the letter kuf king over laughter, And He tied a crown to it and He combined one with another, and with them He formed Pisces in the Universe, Adar in the Year, and the spleen in the Soul male and female.[10] During Adar spring is in the air, battling the remnant of the long dark winter month of Tevet and Shevat. “Just as when Av enters we decrease in happiness, likewise when Adar enters we increase in joy.”[11] This fits in with the sense of the month: ‘laughter.’ Adar is bubbling over with laughter, as the last month of the year, and the feeling of having reached completeness causes joy. Since Nissan, the month of Pesach, is considered the first of the Jewish months,[12] Adar, being the culmination of the Jewish year, gives us the opportunity to tie all the loose, hanging ends, and turn all possibilities of frustration and depression into joy. Spinning the loose ends together into a perfect pattern of accomplishments while gaining a greater perspective of the past, causes exhilaration for the future. Perhaps this is why it states about the woman of valor: “Glory and Majesty is her clothing and she laughs to the very last day.”[13] Adar is the month of laughter as “the very last day,” the completion – bring joy and laughter, and ‘he who laughs last laughs longest.’ Laughter is also the expression of unbounded happiness, resulting from witnessing the unexpected light of the Purim miracle emerging from the spiritual darkness. Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburg points out that it is said about Yitzchak – the archetype personification of laughter in the Torah – “the fear of Yitzchak.”[14] This phrase פחד יצחק/pachad yitzchak can also be read as: ‘fear shall laugh’ – the essence of fear shall metamorphose into laughter. The fear of Haman transforms into the exuberant laughter of the festival of Purim. Laughter, joy, happiness breaks all borders; this month is the time to take advantage of this window of opportunity and increase in joy and happiness.

The Meaning of the Name Adar
The name Adar is connected to the Hebrew word Adir,[15] meaning empowerment and strength.[16] The word Adar can be broken into A/Dar -the Hebrew letter ‘alef’ representing the oneness of G-d ‘dar’ – dwells. G-d created the world “to make for Himself a dwelling place (dira) in the lower worlds. Adar represents the lowest of the worlds, but it is specifically here where G-d, the Alef, longs to reveal His presence and to dwell. The phrase “completely turn around” (Megillat Esther 9:1), is the main key to connect with the energy of Adar, where we have the opportunity to transform our very lowest shadowy sides.

The Long Letter kuf – Extending Into the Lower World
The shape of this month’s letter kuf is like a heh the letter of the month of Nissan, which is the month of revealed miracles, yet the foot of the kuf extends downwards below the line. This indicates the ability of this month to complete G-d’s creation and extend its power by means of human effort into the lower world. The foot of the kuf descending below the line symbolizes G-d’s dwelling place below, enacted by our descent to transform all depression and sadness to pure delight. The letter kuf begins both the words kedusha, (holiness), and klipah, (shell). The spiritual work during Adar is the ongoing work of extracting sparks of holiness from their impure shells and transforming them into holiness. Therefore, the month of Adar receives the power to conquer and elevate our base desires.

The month of Adar marks the end of the six winter months, and corresponds to Elul, the sixth of summer months. This is mirrored in the letters that form the nature of these months; Adar was formed by the kuf, whose numerical value is 100, while Elul was formed by the yud whose numerical value is 10. Each represents completeness in their respective domain.

The letter kuf also means ‘monkey’ (kof). In accordance with the idiom “as a monkey in the face of man,”[17] the kuf symbolizes the custom of masquerading on Purim. Before the miracle of Purim, G-d Himself “hid His face” and His name is not mentioned even once in the Scroll of Esther. By initially hiding our identity, pretending to be someone else, our innermost essence becomes revealed. This also explains the concept of modesty by concealing our body we reveal our Neshama (soul)

Before eating from the Tree of Knowledge our bodies were so refined and transparent that they reflected the light of our souls. Afterwards the body became a mask for the soul, concealing our true inner being. The purpose of garments is to conceal the mask of our body and through the choice of texture, style and color, express our inner essence and bring forth hidden sparks of our soul.

In Hebrew the word for body is ‘guf,’ Rav Tzaddok of Lublin explains that the power of the letter kuf teaches us about the inherent holiness of even the physical body of a Jew, since it is known that the Hebrew letter gimel is exchangeable with kuf as they are both sounds from the palate.[18]

The Weekly Torah Portions of the Month of Adar
During Adar we complete the Book of Redemption (Exodus) by reading the Torah portions of Truma, Tetzave, Kitisa and Vayakhel and Pekudei. These Torah portions mainly describe the completion of the mishkan (tabernacle) which is the underlying theme of the holiday of Purim. The evil Queen Vashti refused to allow King Achasverus to give permission to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem. The true victory of Purim took place when Darius, the son of Queen Esther began to rebuild the holy Temple. Except for during a leap year, on the Shabbat prior to the holiday of Purim we read the Torah portion Tetzave about the clothing of the Kohen Gadol, (High Priest). The purpose of these exquisite garments was to cover the mask of our body and return the original light of Adam the first man.

Permutation: Hei/hei/yud/vav ה/ה/י/ו
In order to connect with the energy of the month it is good to visualize its permutation of Hashem’s four lettered name. Each of the 12 months have a different permutation. The permutation of Adar alludes to the completion and full circle, which takes place at this time. We start with the first heh (daughter) referring to malchut, the lowest sefira (the Shechina) where G-d meets this world. This is followed by the next heh (mother) representing bina, the highest female sefira that receives and completes the light of chachma represented by the letter yud (father) the highest masculine sefira. From there we go back downwards into the lower world as represented by the vav (son) completing the higher point of yud encompassing the six middle sefirot, connecting it back with the lower heh representing malchut.

Protected Pisces Covered by the Waters of Torah
Adar is the month of good fortune for the Jewish people. During leap-years we have two months of Adar, just as the tribe Yosef, associated with the month of Adar, is sometimes considered two tribes. The two fish of Pisces represent Yosef’s two sons. The main tribe Efraim, whose name is associated with fruitfulness,[19] connects with the fruitfulness of the constellation of Pisces.[20] One of the definitions of Purim, celebrated this month, comes from the word pru – “be fruitful and multiply.” Therefore, this is the month most suited for pregnancy and birth.[21] Ya’acov blessed both Efraim and Menashe “To increase fishlike within the land.”[22] Just as the fish are covered by water and the evil eye cannot rule over them, likewise Yosef's descendants are protected from the enemy.[23] Just as fish live in the hidden world of the sea, the Divine souls swim in the waters of Torah; our true identity being invisible in this world. Fish- in Hebrew ‘dag’ represents the ‘tikun’ (rectification) of da’ag – ‘to worry.’ The strong (though initially hidden) mazal (fortune) of Adar, converts all our worries to ultimate joy of redemption and rebirth. The two fishes represent the Written and the Oral Torah. Since the spiritual power of the Jews climaxes in Adar, the process of the giving of the Torah was actually not completed until Purim. Only then did the Jewish people accept the authority of the sages and their oral Torah willingly,[24] when the sage Mordechai with the help of Queen Esther brought about the salvation of the Jewish people. “For the Jews there was light and happiness” – Light refers to the Oral Torah.[25] According to Kabbalah the Oral Torah is considered female because it receives from the Written Torah. The power of the female is to build, complete, and create wholeness, as the woman takes a tiny seed and builds it into a complete being within her.

The Humble Flexible Purity of the Piscean
Pisces is a water sign. For the sake of the purity and repentance associated with water, the Jews were saved at the time of Purim. Torah is compared to water, because you need to be humble to absorb it. Just like the fish cannot live without water, so the world (the Jewish people) cannot exist without Torah. The Torah is compared to water, because you need to be humble to absorb it. Water always flows downward, seeking the lowest level. Moshe, the giver of the Torah, was the most humble of all men.[26] He is closely linked to water and his name means, “From the water I have drawn him.”[27] His only sin was bringing forth water by hitting rather than speaking to the rock. Moses was a Pisces; he was born and died on the 7th of Adar! The month of Adar, moreover receives the power of its tribe Yosef to conquer and elevate our base desires, as Yosef overcame the temptation of Potifar’s wife. Pisces is opportune for both physical and spiritual blessing; one fish represents physical wholeness, the other fish represents the eternal soul. The Divine soul grows and develops through the twelve constellations of the zodiac; we reach our ultimate perfection in the last constellation of Pisces. “…They nurture him with pure water from Aquarius (in Hebrew water-container) and he grows with great joy like a fish which enjoys being in the water…He perpetually eats from the Tree of Life which is planted in the section of the righteous… and he lives forever.”[28] The Piscean personality is very flexible and can easily adapt to change. Since Pisces is the last of the Jewish Zodiac and represents the highest stage of development, the Piscean personality is able to associate with various types of people, and has the power to bring about self-transformation.

Laughing from our Spleen
“The spleen laughs.”[29] At first sight, this appears most paradoxical, for the spleen is considered the seat of the black humor, the source of depression and despair. Yet, all of the phenomena of Adar and Purim are essentially paradoxical, and represent states of existential metamorphosis. The spleen is connected to the immune system. Its purpose is to fight against infection of evil invaders. Laughter is an expression of overcoming evil. Strengthening our will power gives us the ability to overcome evil, and achieving completeness. Reaching this peak of wholeness through our own efforts is what engenders the greatest possible happiness. “Then our mouths will be filled with laughter,”[30] the ultimate expression of happiness without bounds.

Adar is a month filled with spiritual powers and potential for success, fruitfulness and joy. It is an opportune time to elevate our shadowy sides and transform ourselves to what we are meant to be. Use the power of joy to change your life and the world.

[1] Babylonian Talmud, Ta’anit 29b.
[2] Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 179:1-2.
[3] The Rema Ibid.
[4] Bereishit 1:14-16.
[5] Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 156.
[6] Rabbeinu Bachaya, Bereishit 15:5.
[7] Bereishit Rabah 10:7; Cf. Zohar I:251a, Zohar Chadash 4b.
[8] Bereishit 15:5.
[9] Rashi, ibid.
[10] Sefer Yetzirah 5:2.
[11] Babylonian Talmud, Ta’anit 29a.
[12] Shemot 12:2.
[13] Mishlei 31:25.
[14] Bereishit 31:42.
[15] Tehillim 8:2.
[16] Rav Tzadok of Lublin, Machshevet Charotz, chapter 4.
[17] Babylonian Talmud, Baba Batra 58a.
[18] Rav Tzadok of Lublin, Divrei Sofrim, Likutei Amerim 16.
[19] Bereishit 41:52.
[20] Rav Tzaddok of Lublin, Machshevet Charotz, chapter 4.
[21] Rav Tzaddok of Lublin, Resisei Layla, 58.
[22] Bereishit 48:16.
[23] Rashi, Bereishit 48:16.
[24] Babylonian Talmud, Shavuot 39a.
[25] Babylonian Talmud, Megillah 16b.
[26] Bamidbar 12:3.
[27] Shemot 2:10.
[28] Midrash Tanchuma, Ha’azinu 1.
[29] Babylonian Talmud, Berachot 51b.
[30] Tehillim 126:2.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Ponderings Pertaining to Purim Katan - Practices and Celebrations

Mapping Avraham Avinu's Journey 
We are arriving at the zenith of Adar Alef with Purim Katan and Shushan Purim Katan this Friday and Shabbat. Usually, these days pass us by without having any significance in most of our lives other than seeing them written in the calendar. I was wondering since Purim Katan does have a name, it’s not just like any other day, perhaps it is supposed to be celebrated in some way? We are all trying somehow to live with the times, becoming conscious of the special energies available to tap into, to make the best of each and every day. So is there any difference between the energy of Purim Katan and the rest of the month of Adar Alef? Are we supposed to take a break from peeling potatoes and scrubbing the floors this Friday in order to celebrate something? We have been comparing Adar Alef and Adar Beit, noticing that everything in Adar Alef is small and quiet compared to the fanfare of Adar Beit. Just as the moon is smaller than the dominating sun, the month of Adar Alef is hidden like a fetus in the womb. It is actually this month which is called the “month of pregnancy,” as if the pregnant year is carrying an additional month in its belly.

Perhaps we may even say that although Purim is born in Adar Beit it is conceived in Adar Alef. Therefore, during Purim Katan we have the ability to connect with the root and origin of what Purim is all about. Our Sages teach: There is no difference between the fourteenth the first Adar and the fourteenth of the second Adar except in the matter of reading the Megillah and gifts to the poor.[1] From here we learn that everything that applies to Purim also applies to Purim Katan, except that we don’t have an obligation to hear the Megillah or to give special charity to the poor. Interestingly, the Talmud doesn’t mention anything about being exempt from giving Mishloach Manot – Purim gifts on Purim Katan. From this we may infer that indeed it is very appropriate to give Mishloach Manot also on Purim Katan. So when you are busy with your Shabbat cooking this Friday, you may want to make a little extra and set aside into pretty baskets. You can have these Purim Katan gifts delivered to anyone whom you want to reach out to, someone you wish to forgive, someone lonely or friendless, or perhaps you want to surprise your best friend with a “Small Purim” gift.

Just as the moon is connected with our subconscious and inner emotions, Purim Katan is about tuning into the inner internal/eternal essence of Purim. When I think about what is the deepest root of the main theme of Purim, Achdut – unity among Jews and Simcha – joy come to mind. Doesn’t sharing Purim gift, especially when delivered by a third party bring about love and unity among us? Unity and joy are interrelated. The joy of Adar is what makes the month of Adar the “pregnant” month of the year. It is so full of joy that it is as if Adar were pregnant with happiness. On Purim Katan there are no halachic requirements for celebration. We have the opportunity to exult in our natural love for Hashem without being limited to specific required mitzvot. There are no restraints to our joy. Whatever we do to increase our joy on Purim Katan, we do because we want to, not because we have to. Rather than keeping the physical mitzvot on Purim proper, Purim Katan gives us an occasion of joy and preparation for the transformation possible during every day of the two months of Adar. It is the heart-felt joy that comes from showing our love for Hashem, without a requirement, that can carry us, through multiple years, until the next Purim Katan.[2]

Purim Katan – A Microcosm of the Larger Purim
Purim Katan belongs to the group of days where we refrain from tachanun,[3] fasting and eulogies, but no festivities are required.[4] However, it’s not every year that we merit to celebrate Purim Katan, only seven times every 19 years! Thus we better welcome this holiday as a precious guest because it only visits us at rare occasions. Purim Katan is the only time we have a minor festival preceding the actual festival. We have thirty extra days to put ourselves into Purim spirit. Yet Purim Katan is more than an official reminder that it is time to begin preparing ourselves for the upcoming holiday. In all matters, safe for the obligation to hear the Megillah and giving gifts to the poor, both Purims are equalized. Therefore, also on Purim Katan it is appropriate to remember the miracle of being saved from the enemy. This year as we go about our Shabbat preparations, let us try to recall miracles in your life, recognize Hashem’s hidden providence and express thankfulness for being saved from something horrible like an accident, an illness or a personal breakdown. It is also good to remember that in spite of the recent horrible holocaust threatening to wipe out the entire Jewish people, we are still here today celebrating!

Another important aspect of Purim which we can take on equally on Purim Katan is the commitment to the binding nature of the Oral Torah and faith in the Rabbinic authority (Emunat Chachamim). There is a famous Talmudic statement teaching that the Jewish people didn’t accept the Torah willingly at Sinai, but rather G-d suspended the mountain above their head saying: “If you accept the Torah, good, otherwise this will be your burial place.”[5] However, if the Jewish people were coerced into accepting the Torah, how can they be responsible to keep it? Nonetheless, they reaffirmed their acceptance in the days of Achashverosh, as it states: “The Jews established and accepted.”[6] They established what they had already accepted.[7] On Purim, the Jewish people took upon themselves not just to observe Purim as a holiday, but to re-accept the Torah, specifically the Oral Torah. This is learned out from the order of the words, since we would expect the Megillah to read “they accepted” before “established.” Thus, also on Purim Katan we can reaffirm the Torah’s relevance to all times, to all places, under all conditions.

Purim and Pesach
There is a discussion in the Talmud of when to celebrate Purim during a leap year. The conclusion is that we keep Purim in the Adar Beit in order to link the redemption of Purim to the redemption of Pesach.[8] Thus we see that the secret of Adar and Purim is “the end is wedged in the beginning.”[9]

We draw an association between these two festivals because of their shared theme of redemption; both Purim and Pesach recount a fateful deliverance of Israel. The connection between Purim and Pesach is hinted at thousands of years before the Purim story took place. When Lot hosts the two angels to a meal at the eve of the destruction of Sodom, he serves them matzah.[10] We have a deep tradition that that fateful evening of Lot’s deliverance was Pesach.[11] Yet, the Torah calls this meal that Lot provides for the angels a “mishteh” (drinking party). This term alludes to the celebration of Purim mentioned in the Megillah with the identical term: “mishteh.”[12] Pesach is the festival of revealed redemption accompanied by miracles in the sprouting light of spring, whereas Purim is the festival of redemption in darkness, without revealed miracles, in the last month of the year, in the depth of winter. Together they enact complete redemption. As an ancestor to Ruth the Moabites, Lot bore within him a spark of the Mashiach who will enact the complete redemption. Therefore, he has the ability to integrate these two redemptions. The hidden seed within Lot, from which Mashiach will sprout, enables him to conduct a unified Pesach Seder and Purim feast as one!

Celebrating with Simcha – Joy!
While every holiday is celebrated with joy, the particular mitzvot attached constrain our joy into specific requirements. Since there are no required mitzvot on Purim Katan, our joy can then be unbridled without restraint. Even the mitzvah to rejoice by add a festive meal to celebrate Purim Katan is not explicitly written in the Code of the Jewish Law,[13] perhaps because it is on such an elevated level that it can only be alluded to. The Shulchan Aruch writes: There is an opinion that to increase in festivity and joy on the 14th of the first Adar, but this is not the custom.[14] Nevertheless, a person should increase somewhat in festivity... for “One who is of good heart is always celebrating.”[15] Our Simcha is supposed to grow every day and carry us all the way to Pesach, which in turn carries us through the year and back to Purim again!

Purim Katan and Mashiach
“All the holidays will cease except Purim, as it states: “And its memory will not cease from their descendants.”[16] Even after all the other holidays are abolished Purim will remain.[17] There is a connection between Purim Katan and the Mashiach.[18] They are both called small. Hashem appeases the moon after having reduced her light by reminding her that the righteous shall be named after her, “Ya’acov the Small, Shemuel the Small, David the Small. Yet On seeing that she was not appeased, the Blessed Holy one said, ‘Bring atonement for Me, for I caused the moon to grow small.’”[19] In the future to Come the gap between the sun and the moon will be healed. At that time the moon will gain the renewed ability to share the crown with its co-ruler: the sun. Improvement can only happen via the motion of descent for the sake of progressing to an even higher place in the end. Although we use the term ‘small’ (katan) with regard to Purim Katan, therein lies its greatness, “this small one will be great,” with the true and complete Redemption when “the light of the moon shall be as the light of the sun, and the light of the sun shall be sevenfold, as the light of the seven days, on the day that Hashem binds up the breach of His people, and heals the stroke of their wound.”[20]

[1] Babylonian Talmud, Megillah 6b.
[2] Rabbi Dr. Hillel ben David (Greg Killian, Purim Katan - פורים קטן The remainder of this article is based on this insightful article on
[3] Tachanun is a prayer of supplication when falling on the incongruous with the festive nature of Purim Katan. Women are exempt from Tachanun.
[4] Shulchan Aruch, 697:1.
[5] Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 88a.
[6] Megillat Esther 9:27.
[7] Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 88a.
[8] Babylonian Talmud, Megillah 6b.
[9] Sefer Yetzira 1:7.
[10] Bereishit 19:3.
[11] Rashi, Bereishit 19:3.
[12] Megillat Esther 9:22.
[13] It is only mentioned in the Abudraham known for his commentary on the Synagogue liturgy.
[14] Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 697:1(The very last entry in Orach Chaim).
[15] Mishlei 15:15;The Rema, Rav Moshe Isserles in his inline commentary and conclusion to the Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 697:1.
[16] Megillat Esther 9:28; Midrash, Yalkut Shimoni, Mishlei 9.
[17] Midrash Mishlei 9:2.
[18] I Shemuel 17:14.
[19] Babylonian Talmud, Chulin 60b.
[20] Yeshauya’hu 30:26.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Adar Alef: The Power of the Pregnant Month

Adar is the month of good fortune, and now we have the double good fortune to have two months of Adar. The Lubavitcher Rebbe teaches that just as it takes a ratio of 1/60 to annul a mixture of un-kosher and kosher food, the sixty days of the two Adars in a leap year allude to the nullification of all undesirable things! It is the most opportune time to increase in a double measure of simcha (happiness) for a full sixty days.

Outside Torah Learning
Last week I wrote you about reconciliation between the sun and moon that takes place during the Jewish leap year when we adjust the lunar to the solar calendar. I want to add a beautiful idea from “The Light of the Moon” by Orah Rivkah Weingurt.[1] The sun with its constant stable light is compared to the intellect, while the moon with its mood shifts is compared to the emotions. We also learn this idea from the fact that sun is called חמה/chama from the language of heat, whereas the moon is called לבנה/levana from its white color. The word חמה/chama includes the letters of מח/moach which means brain, while the word לבנה/levana includes the letters of the word לב/lev which means heart. The month of Adar Alef is the time to connect and unify our mind and heart, integrating our intellectual understanding with our emotions. I often feel a gap between my sechel (intellect) and emotions. In our time we learn multiple ideas at the speed of lightening without necessarily absorbing the lessons gleaned into our gut and incorporating them into our lives and actions. I know intellectually to be happy with whatever happens in life. However, when someone hurts me or things are difficult at the Midrasha, I still get upset, even though I know that it’s all for the best.

Our grandmothers and great grandmothers where not privileged to learn even a fraction of our deep Torah learning today, yet did this detract from their connection with Hashem and their devotion to Torah life? In the past people would learn less but integrate their learning much more into their actions. Many would not learn any new ideas until they had mastered to make their previous learning part of their life. They kept Ramban’s directive: “Study the Torah regularly so that you be able to fulfill its mitzvot. As soon as you have completed studying any book of Torah think about what you have studied; whether there is something in your lesson that you would be able to fulfill.”[2] Often when I prepare class I get a flash that really all these nice ideas are less important than the simple Yirat Shamayim of wanting to keep Hashem’s mitzvot which I hope to instill in myself and my students. However, in our time we need all the exciting deep mystical Torah to motivate ourselves to turn off our computers and iPhones before the last minute of Shabbat candlelight time. Sometimes I long for a past before my time when things were simple and pure, and when my heart would be open to apply every little kernel of truth that I knew.

Spiritual Cholesterol
Why is it so hard to apply the learning of our intellect into our heart and actions? We are all concerned about lowering cholesterol and keeping our arteries unblocked, but what about unblocking the pathways to the emotions in our heart? The concept of a blocked heart is called טמטום לב/timtum lev in the Torah.[3] Most of us have various degrees of spiritual cholesterol that blocks the pathway between our mind and heart. We pray together with King David: /לֵב טָהוֹר בְּרָא לִי אֱלֹהִים Lev tahor b’ra li Elokim – “Create for me a pure heart oh G-d!”[4] The usual mussar approach to purifying the heart is by means of working on our midot (character traits) and conquering our desires for extras. Without detracting from this approach, it may be even more effective to really learn the concepts we want to integrate in such a deep way that it becomes totally clear to us without a speck of doubt. Once a concept has become clear as the blue sky on a summer day, its message will automatically spill over into our heart and unblock it. For example when we know clearly that if we don’t get up by a certain time in the morning we will miss our flight and lose a lot of money, then we will surely jump out of bed at the very first alarm. Likewise, if we only understood the power of prayer, how would we ever miss mincha (afternoon prayer) even once!

Contemplating in our Heart
Unblocking our spiritual and emotional cholesterol by making the new concepts we learn crystal clear to ourselves, to the extent that we have absolutely no doubt about them is the work of the month of Adar. This is the time when we especially have the mitzvah to obliterate the memory of Amalek who shares the numerical value of the Hebrew word ספק/safek – doubt. Moshe, our teachers reminds us of the importance to think deeply about what we learn with the following words:
וְיָדַעְתָּ הַיּוֹם וַהֲשֵׁבֹתָ אֶל לְבָבֶךָ כִּי הָשֵׂם הוּא הָאֱלֹהִים בַּשָּׁמַיִם מִמַּעַל וְעַל הָאָרֶץ מִתָּחַת אֵין עוֹד
“Know today and contemplate in your heart that Hashem is G-d in heaven above and in the earth below there is no other.”[5] From here we learn that integrating mind and heart begins in the mind and spreads to the heart through deep contemplation. It is interesting that the word used for “Know” is v’yadata from the Hebrew root ידע/yada which also means connection as in “Adam knew his wife Chava.”[6]

Where Mind and Heart Meet
שמשא וסיהרא משמשין כחדא ולא מתפרשין לעלמין
“The sun and the moon must serve as one and never ever separate.”[7] Some people are naturally more emotional types and others are intellectuals yet the month of Adar Alef is most opportune for balancing ourselves, integrating our sun/intellect and moon/emotions. Rav Kook teaches: “Whoever learns Torah l’shema (for its own sake) is blessed with complete and perfect unity between the intellect and the emotions, in a way that each one will widen the boundary of the other, as they are one beloved couple which never separates.[8] I remember many years ago that some people mistakenly considered Midreshet B’erot Bat Ayin to be not such intellectual place of learning since we emphasize spirituality and creativity. That’s when we started to add terms such as ‘text based,’ ‘serious textual study’ etc. to all of our promotional materials. It is difficult for people to understand that emphasizing the emotional and spiritual facets doesn’t necessarily detract from the intellectual level. On the contrary, Rav Kook’s chidush (new idea) is that when we learn for the right reason our heart and mind can mutually enhance one another. Balancing our emotions and developing good character traits are the vessels for containing our intellectual learning. For example it is known that when a person gets angry he forgets his Torah learning.[9] Likewise, intellectual Torah learning with deep contemplation facilitates purifying our heart and developing good midot (character traits). At Midreshet B’erot Bat Ayin we strive to integrate mind and heart, allowing each to enhance and strengthen the other.

The Sound of Silence
Achieving the perfect balance between intellect and emotions can also be understood as balancing between speech and silence. Rachel mastered the art of silence passed it on to all of her descendants. Leah mastered the art of expressing thanks and passed it on to all of her descendants.[10] Rachel remained silent and did not tell Ya’acov when her sister was given to him in marriage. Leah praised Hashem when she named her fourth son Yehuda, realizing that all her suffering was worthwhile to accomplish giving birth to the ancestor of Mashiach. Both the power of speech and silence together build the Jewish nation. The balance between them is called חשמל/Chashmal,[11] which incidentally means electricity in modern Hebrew. It is interesting to note that also electricity consist of the perfect balance between + and -. It is a real art to know when to speak and when to remain silent; both are equally needed at the appropriate times. Speech becomes empty without inner content. In order to express our power of speech we need to relearn to listen to our inner voice which has been blocked by the incessant, deafening noise of modern technology. The noise of our technically devised internet-Walkman- mp3-world makes us turn to the silence of meditation. Rachel and her children teach us how to keep secrets. We too even if we feel we need to speak about everything, do we really need to speak about everything with everyone?

Yosef’s Secret Covering
Yehuda sanctified Hashem in a revealed way, whereas Yosef sanctified Hashem in secret.[12] Yosef never revealed to his father that his brothers had sold him into slavery, as this would have been considered lashon hara (evil speech) since there was no longer any purpose for letting Ya’acov know, as the deed could not be undone.[13] Think about how incredible hard it must have been for Yosef to keep silent and not tell his father about all the suffering he went through because of the hatred of his brothers who desired to kill him, and in the end sold him as a tender youth of 17 to the most loathsome society of Egypt. The extent of Yosef’s incredible self-discipline is also enacted during his encounter with Potiphar’s wife. Since Yosef covered up for his brothers and sanctified Hashem’s name in secret, extending his mother Rachel’s art of silence he and his descendants is covered and protected from the evil eye.

Also Yosef’s blessing to his sons Efraim and Menashe was in secret saying “may they multiply fishlike within the land.”[14] Just as the fish are covered so is his descendants covered. Therefore, he merited that Ayin Hara does not rule his children.[15] The constellation of the month of Adar is Pisces, and corresponds to the tribe of Yosef. Therefore it seems that the entire month is opportune for connecting with the world that is ‘hidden from the eye’ by means of silence.

The Two Fish of Pisces
The twelve months of the Jewish year correspond to the twelve signs of the zodiac, and the month of Adar corresponds to dagim (Pisces).[16] Adar corresponds to Dagim because during this month we are able to avoid the harmful effects of the Ayin Hara.

Rav Tzadok Hakohen of Lublin notes that Yosef was unique among Ya’acov’s sons in that his two sons each formed a separate tribe.[17] Accordingly, in a leap year, the two months of Adar correspond to the two sons of Yosef, Menashe and Efraim. “Since the main reading of the Megillah and obliterating Amalek are in Adar Beit, it follows that this month corresponds to Efraim. Likewise Yehoshua from the tribe of Efraim was the first eradicate Amalek. Adar Alef corresponds to Menashe.”[18]

Yosef named his first born son Menashe for G-d has made me forget all my toil, and all my father’s house.”[19] The word Menashe comes from the word nasha, which indicates the action taken in order to make ourselves forget. In order for Yosef to be able to remain silent and not tell his father what his brothers had done to him he needed to first make himself forget it. When someone harbors negative feelings it is close to impossible that these feelings won’t leak out, at some point, in negative speech. Yosef was able to completely forget what his brothers did to him in his heart. This inner soul work is the essence of the name Menashe and the work of Adar Alef.

Connecting the Silence of Adar Alef with Rectified Expression of Adar Beit
During a leap year everything takes place in the second Adar: The Fast of Esther, Purim and Shushan Purim. Adar Beit is the month of expression – of reading the megillah and making lots of noise with our groggers. Adar Alef stands in shade of its colorful expressive partner. Everything in Adar Alef is smaller, instead of Purim we have Purim Katan (which means ‘Small Purim.’) Yet it is actually through the power of the ‘smallness’ of silence that we achieve rectified speech – the ability to make our few well-thought words effective. This is the power of Esther who kept silent and “didn’t tell of her people and her descent.”[20] Until Mordechai spurred her on by imploring her: “If you remain silent at this time…you and your father’s house shall perish.”[21] Only then did Esther dress up in malchut (the royalty of speech), and brought about the salvation of her people through rectified speech. If we work on practicing silence in the hidden realm during the first month of Adar, with Hashem’s help we will be able to achieve rectified speech in the second month of Adar, and reveal the hidden miracles in our lives!

[1] Much of this article is based on this beautiful book in Hebrew אור הלבנה, בינה נשית במעגלי העיתים
אורה רבקה וינגורט
[2] Iggeret HaRamban, p. 6.
[3] See for example Rabbeinu Bachaya ,Vayikra 11:33.
[4] Tehillim 51:12.
[5] Devarim 4:19.
[6] Bereishit 4:1.
[7] Zohar, Part 2, 168b.
[8] Orot HaKodesh 1:75.
[9] Babylonian Talmud, Nedarim 22b.
[10] Midrash Bereishit Rabbah 78:5.
[11] Yechezkiel 1:27. ‘Chash’ means silence whereas ‘mal’ is related to the Hebrew word for ‘word.’
[12] Babylonian Talmud, Sotah 36b.
[13] Ramban, Bereishit 45:27.
[14] Bereishit 48:16.
[15] Maharal, Chidushei Aggadot, Sotah p. 43.
[16] Sefer Yetzirah 5:2.
[17] “Efraim U’Menashe K’Reuven V’Shimon Yiheyu Li” – (Bereishit 48:5).
[18] Rav Tzaddok HaKohen, P’ri Tzaddik, for R”C Adar, Ot 10.
[19] Bereishit 41:51.
[20] Esther 2:10; 2:20.
[21] Esther 4:14.