Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Shavuot - The Holiday of Perfected Relationships

Mount Sinai - B'erot Student's Artwork
Shavuot is a special holiday for me, this year it celebrates 36 years from the beginning of my Teshuva process. I remember my first Shavuot when Rabbi Goldstein said, “Now that you have received the Torah, what are you going to do with it? Can you give it back? No! You've got to keep it!”

So this is what I have tried to do ever since. My husband heard the same message and soon after we found each other and decided to keep the Torah together. Keeping the Torah is not just about the length of your sleeves, but especially about building a Jewish family, becoming a good wife and mother in the Torah way. According to Arizal, everything that takes place in the world is a reflection of underlying spiritual relationships. Blessings come into the physical world as a result of unifications in the spiritual world.  There are endless spiritual relationships interconnected with relationships we experience among ourselves within our people and on a personal level within our marital relationship –a reflection of relationship with the Divine. In order to fully receive the Torah we need to perfect our relationships and be in complete unity with one another as the Jewish people were at Matan Torah “like one being with one heart.”  We, women, are masters of relationship. Connecting to others on the deepest level is most women’s highest aspiration, as sisters, wives and mothers etc.

The reason we read Megillat Ruth on Shavuot is not only because Ruth was the mother of royalty, the great-grandmother of King David, or because she was the first official convert to the Jewish faith, blazing the trail for all of us toward radical self-transformation. The inner relevance of the story of Ruth mainly stems from the quality of the core relationship it portrays. Ruth teaches us the perfected relationship between a mother-in-law, Naomi, and a daughter-in-law, Ruth, and their incredibly otherworldly bond. In contrast, the mother-in-law, and a daughter-in-law relationship is the archetype of the most challenging relationship throughout the centuries. The spiritual energy created by the true loving bonds in the story of Ruth generates spiritual unifications which forms the perfect vessel for receiving the Torah. In order to learn from Ruth and develop perfect relationships we need to develop awareness of who we are – our unique existential essence, while developing tolerance for others who are different than ourselves, yet complementary. The more we extend ourselves in order to connect with someone who is most different from ourselves, the more Torah can be revealed and the greater a tikun (rectification) is formed.

Bridging the Divisiveness in the World

Megillat Ruth alludes to the prototype of perfected relationship achieved by “Rachel and Leah, who both built the house of Israel.”  Rachel corresponds to the lower revealed world as opposed to Leah who is associated with the hidden spiritual world.  Although they were diametrically opposed, with such different personalities, they engendered the greatest unification – the foundation for ultimate Ahavas Yisrael – Jewish unity. Ruth who is the reincarnation of Rachel, and Naomi who is the reincarnation of Leah  added the second story to their original building. The Ahavas Yisrael which we learn both from the relationship of Rachel with Leah, as well as Ruth’s relationship with Naomi is the foundation for receiving the Torah. Rachel and Leah bridged the source of divisiveness in the world: the division between heaven and the earth, between the waters above and the waters below, between klal (general) and prat (details), between the written and oral Torah. Rachel and Leah affected each other to the greatest extent that Leah, who originally cried her eyes out in her inner world of prayer,  became the endeared wife of Yisrael – the mother of sons. Rachel who originally embodied the physical external world, learned to cry, as it states “Rachel cries for her children…”  Rachel and Leah initially brought the qualities of Yosef and Yehuda into the world. As mother’s their greatest desire was peace and harmony among their children. Rachel and Leah perfected their relationship as sisters, mothers, and wives to such a degree that they became eternalized as spiritual energies that we can tap into.

Rachel and Leah did such an incredible team work overcoming the greatest obstacles of jealousy – can you imagine your husband being married to another woman let alone your sister? Can you imagine your husband loving your sister more than he loves you without being jealous? Can you imagine your sister being blessed with carrying the fruits of your husband’s offspring in her womb while you remain barren? Even for Rachel and Leah it was not easy but their sisterly love and care for one another overcame their jealousy. They were able to unify to the extent of becoming one person! 

The Two Tablets: Rachel and Leah
 “The two tablets is the secret of Leah and Rachel, the two Heh’s [of Hashem’s name]. Therefore there were 5 [ה] commands on each tablet, and for this reason they are called the tablets of testimony. For the secret of testimony, is the connection between Leah and Rachel. Therefore, the Torah was given on Shabbat, for on Shabbat Leah and Rachel connect. This is the secret of, ‘The tablets are the deed of G-d’”   When we connect with one another, we bring down the Shechina – the Divine Feminine indwelling Presence. Each of us have a spark of Divinity within us, our unification is therefore a testimony to the Oneness of Hashem Who includes us all. This testimony is revealed especially on Shabbat when we disconnect from the virtual reality in order to connect with each other and Hashem, as we turn off all our distracting appliances and devices. Leah represents the commandments between “People and G-d,” whereas Rachel represents the commandments “between People.” Perhaps it is also possible to say that Rachel is the Tablets – she holds the house of Israel together. Leah is the writing – she brought the individual qualities through her many tribes.

Some of us naturally gravitate towards refining our ethical interpersonal behavior, whereas other types are very conscientious in their relationship with Hashem, eating only the highest level of kosher foods, praying with the greatest devotion and keeping the Shabbat in to the letter of the law. Often the different types of people believe their half of the Tablets make up the whole, rather than working on including the unity of both Tablets in their service. Which Tablet do you gravitate towards? What can you do to reach a balance?

Building the Eternal Home of Israel
“All the people that were in the gate, and the elders, said: ‘We are witnesses. May Hashem make the woman that comes into your house like Rachel and like Leah, who both built the house of Israel; and do valor in Efrat and be famous in Beit Lechem.’”  It is impossible to build the house of Israel except through both Rachel and Leah...  The First Temple corresponds to Avraham who called it a mountain, the Second Temple to Yitzchak who called it field. The Third Temple, may it be built soon, corresponds to Ya’acov who called it a house…  This is what the elders said to Boaz … This implies that from Rachel and Leah the house of Israel is built, that is the third Temple…  When all the people in the gate blessed Boaz that Ruth be like Rachel and Leah, who both built the house of Israel, they alluded to the third Temple called “The House of Israel.” The first Temple is associated with Leah, the first heh, while the second Temple with Rachel, the last heh. The third Temple will be built through both of them. This is the secret of “and they both walked together.”  The Hebrew word for ‘both’ is שתיהן/stei’hen. This word can also be broken up to שתי ההי"ן – the two [letters of] heh.  Therefore, both Rachel and Leah build the house of Israel. This is what the Beit Din of Boaz testified at the wedding of Boaz and Ruth, which laid the foundation of malchut (kingdom). For kingdom comes from both of them: Mashiach son of David from Leah, and Mashiach son of Yosef from Rachel.  Why do we need to unify both Rachel and Leah to build the Temple? How does Ruth embody the qualities of both Rachel and Leah?

In order to build the house of Israel we must accept one another allowing his or her difference to affect us on the deepest level while affecting her with our own specialness. For example, a husband may be very tight with money trying to save for a rainy day, whereas his wife loves to spend both on herself as well as sharing with others. A great rectification is enacted when the husband learns to buy expensive jewelry for his wife, and the wife learns from her husband to minimize her purchases and wait until the end of season sales. Through this character building work we will be able to repair the breach that divides between us. On a macro level, we will unite the different factions of our people when we learn to manifest our relationship with others on the deepest level as sisters, wives and mothers, even mother-in-laws!

Becoming One
In Kabbalah Leah and Rachel are at times inter-included to become one. Leah is Rachel’s crown. She is included in Rachel, for Rachel is the main one.  The root of Leah is in Da’at (knowledge) and Rachel is in Tiferet (beauty and harmony). Therefore, Leah is included in Rachel for da’at is the inner experience of Tiferet. Rachel and Leah were originally supposed to be one person in the physical world. The reason they became divided into two is only because of the sin of eating from the Tree of Knowledge. The fact that Rachel and Leah are two separate women reflects the separation between Hashem and His name. When evil will be eradicated from the word, then the Hashem and His Name will become one. 

On Shavuot we rectify eating from the Tree of Knowledge as we sacrifice the two Chametz bread. On Shavuot, when Heaven and Earth are united, the yud heh with vav heh of Hashem’s name, we read the Scroll of Ruth, which heralds the final redemption and the rebuilding of the Temple from the bricks of the highest unification of unconditional love! Therefore, redemption will take place in the merit of the righteous women who overcome jealousy, indifference, anger, and power-struggle to express true love in relationship on all levels.

Rachel and Leah embodied all the unifications necessary in order to truly receive the Torah in the highest way, and connect both of the two Tablets – the Oral with the Written Torah, the Torah with tefilah (prayer), the internal with the external. In this way they laid the template for manifesting the unity between Torah, Hashem and Israel in the building of the eternal Temple. Most women can trace themselves to one of these two archetypes. Let us get in touch with their qualities and identify our own personal strengths connected to either Rachel or Leah or both, and the challenges we need to overcome in order to accept, acknowledge and admire the opposite qualities and balance our energies between both the Rachels and Leahs of our time.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Yom Yerushalayim – A Milestone of Redemption

Praising Hashem for His Miracles
This coming Tuesday evening we celebrate Yom Yerushalayim – a holiday that has gained great significance in my life. This is in contrast to my early ba’al teshuva days when I was surrounded by people who didn’t make much out of Yom Ha’atzmaut and Yom Yerushalayim. It seems to me that politics has taken over and blurred the desire for truth. We, Jews, are polarized into those who are for, and those who are against. Rather than striving to find the Torah way of celebrating these great events, it became a question of which group do you identify with. Those belonging to the Zionistic camp celebrate according to the Rabbinate of Israel. Those in the Chareidi box, although they learn Torah day and night and endeavor to mold their every step to the will of G-d, identify themselves as being against anything the Rabbinate of Israel decides, including the celebration of Yom Ha’atzmaut and Yom Yerushalayim. Did anyone ever ask Rabbi Moshe Feinstein a sha’alah whether to say hallel on these days or not? Since the importance of praising Hashem for His miracles is well known, we cannot take this question lightly. “Had Chezkiyahu recited song at the downfall of Sancheriv, he would have become the King Mashiach…”  

In my search for the true Torah perspective on celebrating these miraculous events of our modern history, I came upon a book by Rabbi Menachem Kasher written right after the Six Day War, called “Hatekufah HaGedolah” (The Great Period.) He quotes the Meiri  who writes,  “Every individual who was saved from tragedy is permitted to say hallel for himself on this day every year, but he doesn’t recite the blessing. This is the law for every community, and thus it was established by the prophets to say hallel when redeemed from any distress.” How much more so, should we celebrate in song, when we witness with our own eyes the prophecies of redemption being fulfilled! The chesed of Hashem has caused us to emerge victorious against the enemies who plotted our annihilation, and caused us to be reunited with our Holy City – Jerusalem. May we see the rebuilding of its glorious Temple speedily in our days! Our haftorah culminates with a prayer for healing. “Heal me, O Hashem, then I shall be healed; help me, then I shall be helped, for You are my praise!” 

May Hashem heal the rift between the different camps of Israel so that we can praise Him together in complete unity!

Torah Learning Versus Army Service
The recent demonstration against compulsory army service has widened the rift between the fragments of our people. If only we could learn the necessity and importance of both Torah learning and protecting our country. Our people consist of different tribes each with their unique characteristic and contribution. The recent holidays of Iyar allude to how both Torah learning and defending Israel from our enemies are interdependent and vital for the survival of our people. There are two tribes linked to the month of Iyar: Yosef and Yissachar. According to the order of the flags the month of Iyar is associated with the tribe of Yissaschar.  This tribe is known to represent Torah as it states, “Yissachar is a strong-boned ass.”  He bears the yoke of the Torah like a strong ass upon which may be placed a heavy load.  The month of Iyar is also connected with Yosef, because its astrological sign is the Taurus (bull), and Yosef is compared to a bull.  Yosef is connected with fighting the wars of Israel as it states, “He has horns like the horns of the wild ox, with them he gores the ends of the earth…”  For this reason the war against Amalek which took place during the month of Iyar was spearheaded by Yehoshua from the tribe of Efraim (Yosef).  According to Seder Olam Rabah, the war against Amalek in the wilderness occurred during the last week of Iyar.   Three thousand years later, descendants of those same Jewish warriors regained sovereignty over large territories of Israel including the heart of Israel: Yerushalayim, the Temple Mount and the Western Wall of the Temple. Actually, it is possible that the war with Amalek happened exactly on the 28th of Iyar – the selfsame day as Yom Yerushalayim! 

Victory through Uniting the Power of Yissaschar and Yosef
Yissaschar and Yosef are interconnected. Only through the power of both is Ya’acov able to conquer Esav and Amalek. This is alluded to by Ya’acov’s assertion as he faces Esav: “I have oxen and asses …”  “Oxen – this refers to Yosef… Asses – this refers to Yissaschar.”  Yosef, specifically, has the power to overcome Amalek whose reason d’etre is to make us believe that everything happens by chance without G-d’s supervision.  Yosef, the power of the ox, involved in the physical world, teaches us how to recognize Hashem within the physical, even within seemingly natural occurrences that could be attributed to chance. Therefore, it is specifically the descendants of Yosef who will overcome Amalek.  The tribe of Yissaschar was unique amongst all the tribes by being blessed with special aptitude for Torah learning as it states, “the sons of Yissachar, knowers of understanding.”  The Land of Israel is only conquered by the power of the Torah as it states, “Our feet are standing within your gates, Yerushalayim.”  “Who caused our feet to remain steadfast in war? The gates of Jerusalem, where Torah was studied.”  From this we learn that in order to be victorious over Esav, Ya’acov needs to be armed with both the physical power of war (Yosef), and the spiritual power of Torah (Yissaschar). It is thus both through the quality of Yissaschar, the study of Torah and  through the power of Yosef,  the power of war  that have we managed to achieve such great military successes  in the  wars that occurred throughout the millennia during the month of Iyar.  When the different segments of our people will stand in unison against our various enemies, by respecting one another and recognizing the unique contribution of each of our tribes, then the Temple will arise in our midst.

Yom Yerushalayim – The Revelation of Hashem’s Miracles in Our Time
On the twenty-eighth day of the month of Iyar, we celebrate one of the major highlights of redemption: Hashem’s miraculous deliverance of Israel from all of its surrounding enemies, and the conquest of its ancient Land including all of Jerusalem with the Kotel (Western Wall) in its midst. For two thousand years, we have been praying for the rebuilding of Yerushalayim, daily. In 1967, this prayer became fulfilled to a great degree. The Jewish people and our Holy City were finally reunited. After 1884 years of separation, it is a great zchut (merit) to witness that Jerusalem with its Holy Temple Mount is again in Jewish hands. In 1967, I lived in Denmark and was only seven years old, but I still remember the great event, because it deeply touched me. I remember the excitement and enthusiastic spirit in the air, and the television reports, which had interviews with soldiers and songs. We played Naomi Shemer’s: “Yerushalayim shel Zahav” over and over. There was no doubt in anyone’s mind (even the most secular) that a great miracle had taken place. All of the armies of Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Iraq, with nearly two hundred thousand troops, supplied by Russia with an arsenal of mighty weapons had arrogantly declared to the whole world: “We are set upon destroying the Jewish State and murdering its inhabitants! We shall drown them in the sea!” In spite of this, through Hashem’s great miracle, the Israeli army, which was greatly outnumbered, landed an amazing victory. Even gentile authors wrote about this wonder which they compared to the victory of the little David against Goliath the giant. With all these feelings and excitement, we must ask ourselves about the spiritual significance of the miracles which took place in the Six Day War.

The Connection between the Haftorah and Yom Yerushalayim
This week’s haftorah gives a clue, as it emphasizes the importance of trusting in Hashem, and realizing that all victory and salvation comes only from G-d. So the prophet proclaims: “Hashem is my power, my strength and my refuge in the day of trouble…”  Even the nations of the world will ultimately recognize the power of the G-d of Israel, and realize how they had been mistaken all along as it states, “…to You nations will come from the ends of the earth and say, only lies have our fathers handed down to us, emptiness in which there is nothing of any avail!… Therefore, behold I let them know. At this time, I will let them know My power and My might, and they shall know that My Name is Hashem”    World recognition of Hashem’s power is a direct result of the miracles that He performs for Israel. The haftorah, therefore, connects perfectly with the amazing miracles that took place during this time. We find several prophesies that allude to the division and reunification of Yerushalayim. “In the time of the war of Gog and Magog, the kingdom of Hashem will be revealed in Mt. Tzion and Yerushalayim. The nations will capture half of the city, but Hashem will go out and fight them. Then, all who remain from all of the nations will realize that to Hashem is the true King.  Likewise, Zechariah prophesied “…Half of the city shall go into exile… then shall Hashem go out and fight against those nations…”  The only period when half of Yerushalayim was exiled was in the years between the years of 1948-1967.

The Sequence of the Holidays between Pesach and Shavuot
It is not incidental that both Yom Ha’atzmaut and Yom Yerushalayim fall in the period between Pesach and Shavuot. Rabbi Loevenstein, the masgiach of Ponovitz Yeshiva, explains that experiencing Hashem’s miracles is a preparation for receiving the Torah. It was only through recognizing the miracle of Purim that the Jewish people reached the level of accepting the Torah through love. Similarly, through recognizing the miracles that Hashem did for us on Yom Yerushalayim, which occurs on the calendar exactly a week prior to Shavuot, we become worthy of receiving the Torah. Moreover, only when the Jewish people are united in our Holy Land, can the Torah of Israel be totally revealed in the world.

"ספר ישעיה פרק ב:ג)"כִּי מִצִּיּוֹן תֵּצֵא תוֹרָה וּדְבַר הָשֵׁם מִירוּשָׁלִָם) – “For from Tzion goes out Torah and the word of Hashem from Yerushalayim.” 

Trust in Hashem and Prepare for the Final Redemption
Rabbi Loevenstein writes in his diary: “The first thing at this time is to realize that what happened (in the Six Day War) is the hand of Hashem and not by chance. We should know that our entire fate is in His hand. No other cause has any influence. Everything is hasgacha pratit, (individual providence) and therefore we must trust in Hashem.” These words reflect the message of our haftorah which emphasizes how we must trust in Hashem alone. “Cursed is the man who trusts in man and relies on mortal flesh for his strength, and whose heart turns away from G-d… Blessed is the man who trusts in the G-d, to whom G-d will be his trust. For he shall be like a tree planted by the water, and which spreads its roots out into a stream…”  On Yom Yerushalayim, people’s belief in G-d became awakened through the great wonders which they saw with their own eyes. They danced in the streets, and many returned to G-d and His Torah. Soldiers testified that they actually saw the hand of Hashem in the battle field, and ran to purchase books of Tehillim (psalms). Everyone was talking about the miracles, which became a sign to await and prepare for the final redemption. It is no wonder that the Ba’al Teshuvah movement emerged at this very time. Both Israeli and Jews from all over the world returned to Torah, inspired by the uplifted spirit which followed the Six Day War.

Integrating the Miracles We Experience
However, it takes a conscious effort to relive the experience of the miracles. It is a natural phenomenon to forget the great wonders which Hashem wrought for us and their messages. After the years have passed, we all tend to forget “that which our eyes saw.” Thus explains Rabbi Simcha Bunim in his book Kol Simcha, “All the plagues and the splitting of the sea were miraculous, but when Israel sinned, the world returned to the way of nature. They forgot the experience of the miracles. Only a vague remembrance remained. The Chafetz Chaim held that our time is without any doubt the time of the footsteps of Mashiach. The signs which chazal (our sages) gave us are all being fulfilled. However, revealed miracles only happen to those who take them to heart. The manna which Israel ate in the wilderness had many different tastes according to the imagination of each person at the time of eating.  Yet, how did the manna taste to someone who didn’t contemplate anything while eating it? The Chafetz Chaim explains that this person wouldn’t taste anything at all when he ate the bread of Heaven. The value of any spiritual lesson is only recognized by those who contemplate upon it. This principle also applies to the coming of Mashiach. The experience of how the whole world will be filled with the revelation of the Shechinah and with knowledge of Hashem, is dependent on how much we contemplate and open our heart. If we don’t think about the coming of Mashiach, we won’t feel it at all.

Yom Yerushalayim and Shemuel the Prophet
The Shulchan Aruch mentions the 28th of Iyar is among the dates where it is proper to fast because of the calamities happened to Israel then. On this day Shmuel the prophet passed away.  The Shulchan Aruch concludes the section with the statement that “in the future, G-d will transform these days into days of rejoicing and happiness.”  How amazing it is to have witnessed this “future” in our days during the end of the six-day war! Shmuel the Prophet is connected with Jerusalem and the Temple through his anointing of King David. Together they prepared the plans of the Temple, the heart of Jerusalem. In addition Shemuel requested that King Shaul would not die during his life time. Since the time for King David’s reign had arrived Hashem had to cause Shemuel to die young.  Thus Shemuel’s death was brought about with the express purpose of accelerating the Kingdom of David.  Therefore, the 28th Day of Iyar, the day upon which The city of Jerusalem, David’s capital, was returned to the Jewish Nation, is clearly a  great milestone in the final stages of our final Redemption.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Iyar: The Holy Fires of Lag B’Omer

In Florida on Tour
I’m happy to return home from a successful North America tour just in time for Lag b’Omer, which is one of these hidden holidays which we celebrate “big time” in Bat Ayin.

In addition to the big communal fire for the entire community, almost each family has their own bonfire. When I invited a couple of our friends over to share the light of our Bonfire, one woman responded: “Sorry, we can’t come, because we have a big pile of wood clippings to burn. We want to use the night of Lag b’Omer to burn it all up.” So I’m asking you, is the purpose of the bon-fires on Lag b’Omer mainly to consume all the accumulated garden waste? Or is there a deeper reason behind lighting fires on this holy day?  What is the best way to take advantage of the energy of Lag b’Omer? I look forward to reading your comments!

Lag b’Omer takes place during hod of hod in sefirat ha’omerHod shares the same Hebrew root with the word תוֹדָה/todah which means thank you. I want to take this opportunity to thank all the amazing people who helped make my tour so successful! Thank you to all of you who hosted, who helped with PR, transportation, and various technical matters. Thank you for those who opened their homes to make me comfortable, who provided healthy food and who extended yourselves in so many ways. Thank you to those who sponsored and supported, who bought my books and who attended. I really appreciate all of you. May Hashem greatly bless you, and may you share in the spiritual reward of Holistic Torah for Women on the Land.

Lag b’Omer – A Holiday Shrouded in Mystery
Lag b’Omer is an exciting and mysterious holiday. We light bonfires, play music, celebrate weddings, and some shoot arrows. All this takes place during the semi-mourning period when we haven’t been celebrating weddings, playing dance-music, cutting hair, or shaving. What is the underlying significance hiding behind this obscure holiday? Lag b’Omer celebrates the anniversary of the passing of the renowned Mishnaic sage and foremost Kabbalist, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai.  His teachings comprise the text of the Zohar the primary book of the Kabbalah. We don’t have any other holiday of this caliber which celebrates the passing of a Jewish sage. Why do we celebrate the passing of one of the greatest sages in Jewish history with so much joy?

The Successor of Rabbi Akiva Entering the Orchad of Kabbalah
Lag b’Omer, which literally means the thirty third day of the Omer, commemorates two events. On the thirty-third day of the Omer, there was an interruption or end of the plague that killed twenty two thousand students of Rabbi Akiva. Subsequently Rabbi Akiva moved to the south of Israel, where Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai became one of the five students, who then carried Rabbi Akiva’s teachings into the future. He later died on the same thirty-third day of the Omer. On his deathbed, he expressed his personal wishes that his yahrtzeit (anniversary of death) be celebrated with great joy. Rabbi Akiva was the greatest Kabbalist of his time. He is the only one of four Rabbis who entered the Pardes (An acronym for the four levels of Torah including the secret mystical level of Kabbalah). Whereas the other Rabbis were injured either physically or spiritually, Rabbi Akiva was the only one who entered and returned in peace.  The mystical tradition that Rabbi Akiva carried with him was passed down to Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai and revealed in the Zohar.

Lag b’Omer’s Kabbalistic Transmission – Rectification for Rabbi Akiva’s Students
Rabbi Avraham Trugman explains how Lag b’Omer celebrates the survival of the Kabbalah. When Rabbi Shimon and his son were hiding from the Romans in the cave, Rabbi Shimon summoned Eliyahu the prophet by a specific formula that he had learned from Rabbi Akiva. This is how it came about that Eliyahu taught them the holy Zohar. There is a tradition in the writings of the Chida (Rabbi Chaim David Azulai), that Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai received the sacred traditions of the Kabbalah from Rabbi Akiva specifically on Lag b’Omer. The knowledge of Kabbalah needed to be transmitted during the Jewish month of Iyar, called the month of Ziv (splendor),  because at this time the land of Israel is glowing with holiness, as the fruits are maturing on the trees and the flowers are blossoming. Since the knowledge of Kabbalah is the holiest teaching, the greatest obstacles deter it from being passed on and revealed in the world. This is the underlying cause of the dispute between the students of Rabbi Akiva and why they met their death during the Omer period. However, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai brought about the rectification, by enlightening his students with the secret of Kabbalah that he had received from Rabbi Akiva. The zenith of this Kabbalistic revelation took place on the day when Rabbi Shimon’s soul rose to heaven. Therefore, we celebrate on the day of his passing, how Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai became the most important link in the chain of Kabbalistic succession.

Since “the Torah is light,”  we can understand the main custom of Lag b’Omer to light the bonfire. The fires of Lag b’Omer represent the light of the inner dimensions of the Torah as well as the deepest longing of our soul to be close to G-d and to understand the spiritual, mystical depths of the Torah. The bonfires also connect us back to Rabbi Akiva, who was tortured to death. He transformed his burning pain into sacrificing his life with the fiery love of Hashem. Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai carried on Rabbi Akiva’s ability to transform the fires of torture to the fire of love of G-d. This incredible light became engraved in the holy Zohar. Rav Yitzchak Ginsburgh reveals that the two letters of לָג/lag – 33, when inverted, spell גָל/gal, which means to reveal or open, as in the verse “Open [gal] my eyes that I may see wonders in Your Torah.”  Lag b’Omer represents the fire of Torah that gives us the inner vision to grasp the wonders of the Torah, thereby illuminating the long night of exile. With Hashem’s help, Israel will be redeemed in the future through the merit of learning the Zohar. In order to overcome the darkness all around us, on a personal, national and universal level, we need to go beyond the superficial learning and observance of Torah, and reveal deeper and more spiritual levels that will bring light to ourselves and the world.

Receiving the Torah with a Good Heart
B’nei Yissascher explains that the forty nine days of counting the Omer can be broken down to the numerical value of the Hebrew “A good heart” consisting of (לב/lev – 32) and (טוב/tov – 17). (32+17= 49) If you count from the first word of the Torah until the word “good” (“tov”) in “Hashem saw that it was good,”  you will find exactly thirty two words. Together the first thirty two words (לב/lev) and the word (טוב/tov) – good spell out the expression לב טוב/lev tov – A good heart.” Hashem commanded us to count the numerical value of “A good heart” in preparation for receiving the Torah, which embodies the quintessence of “A good heart.” The Torah is the heart of the world. Therefore, it has thirty two paths of wisdom. On the first day of Creation, after creating light, the Torah states that Hashem saw that the light was good. According to the Midrash, He concealed this light in the Torah. Therefore, the Torah is the essence of good corresponding to the hidden “light that is good.” This explains why Hashem commanded us to count 49 days (32+17) in order to be worthy to receive the Torah. 

The Hidden Light of the Torah
Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai is called the holy candle, for through him the secrets of the Torah were revealed. This is the secret of “the light that is good” – the Ohr HaGanuz (hidden light) buried in the Torah. Just as the word “tov” in the sentence “the light that is tov/good” is the thirty third word in the Torah, so was Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai’s holy light revealed on the thirty third day of counting the Omer. After having counted thirty two days of the Omer, then the “good” of the heart hidden in the Torah, is revealed. For this reason Lag B’Omer is “tov” (17) days from Shavuot. On that day Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai rose to the upper heaven, and it follows that this is also the day he was born, as Hashem always fulfills the years of the Tzaddikim.  Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai’s holy book is called the Zohar – (Splendor), which refers to “the light that is good” hidden in the Torah. His light will be preserved until the revelation of the light of Mashiach, as our sages said “G-d said, let there be light” – this is the light of Mashiach.  This explains the minhag (custom) to light candles and fires on this day, in honor of “the light that is good” which begins to sparkle on that special day of Lag b’Omer “tov” days before receiving the Torah. This is in honor of the soul of Rabbi Shimon the illuminator of the Torah, and in honor of his holy book the Zohar which gives light from one end of the world to the other.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

The Month of Iyar: Rectifying the Sense of Thought

Rebbetzin teaching in Toronto on Israel's Independence Day
Whereas the month of Nissan is about physical freedom, the month of Iyar is about integrating this freedom into the inner chambers of our being: Our inner thought. Our thoughts have the power to lift us up or drag us down; they have the power to energize us or deplete us, to inspire us to greater accomplishments or to make those accomplishments impossible. When I first came to Teshuva and embraced the Torah lifestyle 34 years ago, I found it relatively easy to keep the external mitzvoth such as adjusting my wardrobe including the necklines. What I found much harder was working on changing my thought patterns. Our thoughts and attitudes are very deeply ingrained and it seems nearly impossible to free ourselves from negative thoughts and judgments of ourselves and others that we may have been conditioned to think since early childhood.

I was once at an event with both of my sisters and I happened to say something mildly derogatory to one of my sisters about the other sister. I immediately corrected myself and said, “I’m sorry I shouldn’t have said this.”  My wise little sister remarked, “You shouldn’t even have thought this.” What she said stayed with me and I realized that in order to truly rectify speech, (the sense of the month of Nissan) we really need to rectify our innermost thoughts (the sense of the month of Iyar). Just as a garden hose with a permanent kink eventually will burst, and water will gush out, likewise, we cannot keep our negative thoughts from surfacing in the long run. The rectification of thought, the focal point of our introspective service to Hashem during the month of Iyar, follows directly upon the spiritual work engaged in during Nissan, the rectification of the realm of speech.

Purifying our Thoughts
After purifying the most direct expression of the heart, the act of speech, we are enabled to refine ourselves on the more subtle plane of thought and, through this purification process, become a fitting vessel for the main event in the month that follows – the receiving of the Torah. During every day of the month of Iyar we have a special mitzvah to count the Omer, as preparation for the receiving of the Torah on Shavuot, the fiftieth day of the Omer. The main spiritual work of the mitzvah of counting the Omer, in which each day of this month participates, is renewing our dedication to truthfulness and to the purification of our thought. We mention this central theme in the prayer we say upon counting the Omer. “…That we may be cleansed from the husks that obscure our essence and be purified from out un-cleanliness.”

Imbuing our Actions with Pure Intention
In order to perfect our external actions, we need to imbue all of them with positive feelings and thought. When we do something begrudgingly it affects the quality of our deed, and it’s sometimes preferable not to do whatever we are being asked, or we think we ought to do unless we are able to do it with our full heart. An act without inner intention is like a body without soul.  There is a great dispute whether mitzvoth need intention or not.  According to one view someone who performed a mitzvah without intention it is considered as if he didn’t perform the mitzvah at all. The importance of intent has even a halachic (Jewish law) application. When it comes to tefila (prayer) there is a unanimous consent that prayer needs intention.  For this reason it is permitted to pray in whatever language one can understand.

Practical Guidelines for Letting Go of Negative Thoughts
While we may not act or speak at all times, the mind is constantly busy, and not a moment goes by without thinking all kinds of thought. Therefore it’s much harder to ensure that all our thoughts are always good and positive. Negative thoughts drain our energy and keep us from being in the present moment. The more we give in to negative thoughts, the stronger they become. It’s like a small ball rolling along the ground, and as it rolls, it becomes bigger and faster. So how do we control negative thoughts which keep popping up, as it states, “No person is saved from thoughts of sin.”

One interesting principle that may be helpful to know is that the mind can only think one thought at the time. Therefore, the trick is to always have positive thoughts, and affirmations at hand to replace the negative thoughts. For example, when I, at times, find it difficult to fall asleep due to anxious thoughts, I try to meditate on sending light to different people. This meditative practice can replace the negative thoughts and relax the mind.

Another important principle to keep in mind is that while we are not in control over the initial thought that pops into our mind, we are certainly responsible for our response, whether we want to feed into that thought. This is why we are directed in the last paragraph of the shema, “Do not go after your heart and eyes after which you go astray.  The Torah mentions “Don't stray after them,” as they are passing through your mind. Let them go.

A third way to combat negativity is through positive affirmation. In my spiritual healing practice I often give my clients positive affirmations to repeat several times a day to help them overcome negativity and fear. For example if a person has a low self-image I may give her the following affirmation: “I chose to believe that I am a good person I deserve to receive love and respect.”

Other ways to overcome negativity may be to consciously smile, to sing, to reframe negative words such as “terrible,” “upsetting” etc. with terms such as “challenging,” and to focus on things we can be thankful for. When we truly desire [to banish negative thoughts and feelings] and make a concerted effort to do so, we will be successful. This is in accordance with the ruling of our Sages, of blessed memory: “If you strive, you will succeed.” 

The Spiritual Attributes of Iyar
The spiritual attributes of the month of Iyar are all connected with rectifying our thoughts which implies contemplation and introspection.
המליך אות ו’ בהרהור וקשר לו כתר וצרפן זה בזה וצר בהם שור  בעולם, ואייר בשנה, וכוליא ימינית בנפש זכר ונקוה: ספר יצירה ה,ז
He made the letter vav king over thought and He tied a crown to it and He combined one with another and with them; He formed Taurus in the Universe, Iyar in the Year, and the right kidney in the Soul, male and female (Sefer Yetzirah 5:7).

The organ of this month is connected with rectification of thought as the kidneys are the source of our spontaneous thoughts. The right kidney advises constructive thought, and the left, evil thought. Our sages say, “The kidneys give advice.”   In particular, the right kidney relates to spiritual advice or introspection. The kidneys act similarly to the ‘conscience,’ as it states, “I will bless Hashem who advised me, even by night my kidneys chastise me.”   This refers to the “chesbon nefesh” (soul-accountancy) which is a way to rectify our thoughts during the month of Iyar. The astrological sign, Taurus, in Hebrew שׁוֹר/shor also means to look or observe. Iyar is the month of introspection for the sake of self-improvement. The bull symbolizes perceptive discriminatory knowledge. As it states, “The bull knows its master, the mule the stall of its master, Israel did not know, my people did not contemplate.”  The letter of the month, the connecting vav helps us organize our thoughts, to see the full true picture, which may relieve negative narrow-minded thoughts.

Vav -- The Linking Letter
Iyar is sandwiched in between Nissan, the host month of Pesach, which marks the beginning of a new journey, and movement from constraints to greater freedom and self-expression, culminating in the receiving of the Torah during the holiday of Shavuot hosted in the next month of Sivan. Iyar is the connector, giving us the opportunity for the healing and the emotional integration that enables us to not only open up, but also to express ourselves in new ways. The Hebrew letter vav is a connecting letter that means “and.” The vav is a link. It’s straight lined shape also supports this notion. The month of Iyar links together the two months of Nissan and Sivan through the power of sefirat ha’omer, which begins in Nissan, continues throughout Iyar and concludes in Sivan, the month of redemption and the month of the giving of the Torah. Only these three months are referred to in the Torah as the first, the second, and the third month of “the Exodus of Israel from Egypt.” The vav likewise, symbolizes the neck, which contains 6 linked bones. It also represents the spine, the back-bone of our entire body which it resembles. Therefore the month of Iyar is especially suited for fixing all back problems which are related to the health of the entire body.

Connecting the Six Divisions
The numerical value of vav, six, symbolizes the six divisions of the Mishna, the foundation of the Oral Torah. The revelation of the Oral Torah occurred during the month of Iyar, when those who were unable to bring the Pesach Sacrifice during Nissan, appealed to Moshe for a second chance. This was granted to them on the 14th of Iyar. This Pesach Sheni (Second Pesach) which resulted from verbal interaction between people dedicated to service of Hashem, became the source of the development of the Oral Torah. Harmonization of the six attributes represented by the vav of this month is the ultimate purpose of the counting of the Omer. As an aid in this endeavor, it has become customary during this period to study the Tractate “Ethics of the Fathers” which contains six chapters.

Letter of Truth
So it is written about Rachav. “Give me a sign (letter) of truth”  This is the letter vav, for it is called the letter of truth. Just like vav indicates connection, the truth can always be verified by the facts to which it is connected. The Hebrew word for truth Emet connects all the letters in the alphabet from the first alef to the last tav through the middle letter mem. Nissan faith precedes truth. Nissan’s service is communal, whereas Iyar’s service is individual. Through our dedication to truth, we may achieve deliverance from evil thoughts.  

Integrating the Physical Land with its Spiritual Content
The sign of the month the Taurus which is a bull represents material strength. The ox, whose main job is to plough the field, reflects the earth sign of this month. It is a time of material blessing and abundance. Yosef is called: בְּכוֹר שׁוֹרוֹ/Bechor Shoro –The firstborn ox.  He ensured the material welfare of his brothers in Egypt, by storing the crops from the years of abundance and saving it for the years of famine.

Although Iyar is the month of material unfolding it also represents the most spiritual light as it is called the month of זִו/ziv” (radiance, splendor).  The name Iyar is also etymologically related to the word אוֹר/ohr – light, since the light of the sun becomes exceedingly great in this month. Iyar is, furthermore, the month that we prepare for receiving the Torah, which is called אוֹרַיְתָא/oreita – Source of Light. Since the land of Israel is the only place that paradoxically integrates the most Divine spiritual light with the most physical earthy land, it makes perfectly sense that on the fifth of Iyar, dominion of part of the Promised Land returned to the Jewish people after 1884 years of exile. Only in the Land of Israel is working the land a mitzvah from the Torah which brings down spiritual light into the world. The true challenge in building the land of Israel is to connect and integrate the physical land with its spiritual content. The Jewish people are called אָדָם/adam.  The alef stands for the Oneness of G-d, merged with דָם/dam – blood, which stands for the physical flesh and blood. When we realize that Israel is the only place where we can express our Jewishness to its fullest, then we will be able to truly appreciate the hidden goodness, which the Holy Land offers. 

Transformative Temple Time
On Rosh Chodesh Iyar about three thousand years ago King Shlomo erected the first Temple.  He unified material splendor with spiritual radiance.  He adorned the Temple with the most precious materials in this world, including gold, silver and copper. King Shlomo had the priorities right when he decided to build the Temple before he worried about his own castle.  He understood that the challenge of money and all material abundance is to raise it up to serve Hashem, rather than to make it a goal in itself.  It was also on the first of Iyar that Jews, who returned from the Babylonian exile, began constructing the second Temple.  It is therefore fitting that the month of Iyar became the very beginning of the Third Temple era by the beginning of the land of Israel returning to the hand of the Jewish people on the fifth of Iyar after more than two thousand years of exile. Let us take advantage of the month of Iyar to transform our personal space to a miniature temple by elevating our physical possessions to become vessels for spiritual mitzvoth!