Thursday, July 31, 2014

Listening to Hashem’s Messages in our Lives

Decoding Hashem’s Messages: “A Turn for A Turn”
This morning, when I went out to water my garden, I was met with a cold shower from a humongous hole in our new garden hose, which my husband had just bought and hooked up yesterday. When I complained that I had requested a green gardening hose, he explained that this yellow one had a 15 year guarantee! Last week and the week before I had found holes in the old garden hose – the exact same ugly yellow kind which we had for less than 15 years. After my husband had fixed it repeatedly, he decided it was time to buy a new one, and voila the next day this one too has a huge hole. So I’m thinking, this is really not normal. We do not have any dogs that could be chewing the holes and our chickens are safely in the coop. Could the occasional stray cats that drift through our plot be the culprit? Even if so, or if it is some other wild animal that only emerges at night when we are unaware of its presence, it’s still quite bizarre that specifically our garden hose had been selected for repeated onslaughts! What is going on??? I’ve just planted new flowers before shmitah (the Sabbatical year for the land), how will they survive if I can’t water them? Although I prefer this kind of suffering to any kind of health issue, G-d forbid, this reoccurring problem is more annoying than a trifle nuisance. The Talmud teaches, “There are no tribulations without sin” (Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 55a), perhaps Hashem is sending me a message here about something I need to fix in my life!? But what could it be? What are some of the clues to learn to interpret Hashem’s messages in our lives? One of the main codes to decipher Hashem’s messages is based on the principle of, “A turn for a turn.” Hashem operates in this world by means of מדה כנגד מדה/measure for measure (Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 90a). I like Rabbi Lazer Brody’s translation “a turn for a turn,” it sounds less judgmental and punishing and more like giving us a turn – an opportunity to benefit us.

Becoming a Pure Channel for Greatest Reception

Knowing and believing that Hashem loves us, and that He only gives us the minimum discomfort we need to make the necessary changes in our lives, I’m determined to find out what I need to work on. So looking into the message of the leaking garden hose, it seems to me that the hose is a channel for water, but when filled with holes it is no longer the channel it was supposed to be, hmmm…. This reminds me of the other reoccurring problem I have been experiencing regarding my internet connection when giving online EmunaHealing courses. Last week, after three hours of trying to get my internet provider on the phone, and having about 8 different technical support people working on figuring out why my internet keeps going on and off, it turns out that my cable is loose. Again, the channel for reception is not working properly. The word ‘cable’ itself derives from the Hebrew word לקבל/l’kabel which means to receive or to accept. Likewise, the word Kabbalah derives from the same root and means reception, as no one can make Kabbalah up on their own, it has to be received from a teacher who received it from his teacher all the way back to Moshe at Sinai. To learn Kabbalah we have to be a pure channel to listen and receive from our teacher. In general, one of the main ways to receive is to listen up. This fits in with the sense of the month of Av, which is ‘hearing’ (Sefer Yetzirah 5:8). Av is the month to develop sensitivities to hear the messages for growth that Hashem is sending us through the difficulties we come up against in our lives. “A Whisper suffices for the wise, but a fool needs flagellation” (Midrash Mishlei 22). The more eloquently we decode Hashem’s messages for our lives the less we will need uncomfortable reminders.

Removing Negative Expectations which Block us from Hearing
The moth of Av is the month of the destructions of our Temples because of senseless hatred between us (Babylonian Talmud, Yoma 9b). Whenever people have a hard time getting along it’s usually due to communication problems and misunderstandings. The story which originally lead to the destruction of the second Temple was based on a misunderstanding and mix up between the names of Kamtza and bar Kamtza (Babylonian Talmud, Gittin 55-56). When we feel animosity towards someone, it’s because we are not making the effort to really hear where that person is coming from. Bottom-line, most of the problems between people are due to our difficulty with truly listen to one another. We often have preconceived notions about what we expect the other person to say, which block us from really listening to them. Instead, what we are hearing is our own voice, which we read into theirs. For example if we experienced a lot of criticism in our childhood, then we may read criticism into everyone’s words. If we have trust issues we may believe that people are saying things to take advantage of us and trick us, even if this may not be the case at all. When we keep showing suspicion, rather than openness to listen and receive what others have to offer, by way of the law of attraction, others may actually begin to harbor resentment. So, the month of Av is about fixing our relationships by removing negative expectations and really opening our hearts to hear what the people in our lives are telling us.

Listening with our Hearts
When we learn the skill of listening with our hearts, we may even develop a flair for detecting unspoken words, hearing what others are not telling us, but what they meant to say. Their facial expressions and body language may give it away. We can then be preemptive in our communication, saying words of comfort for unexpressed pains. A good practice for the month of Av is to listen intently to others and note the deeper truth behind their words. This takes time, patience and slowing down our fast-paced, multi-tasking, accelerated routine. Our children really need us to listen to both their spoken and unspoken words. This attention from those who love them is like fertilizer for the trees, and help them develop confidence and a positive self-image. When my children were young I learned one really phenomenal book on childrearing, and repeated it when raising each of my two sons. It is called, How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will talk written by Adele Faber. I highly recommend this book, also named the ultimate “parenting bible.” I still keep the summary of this classic book in my bedroom drawer, perhaps I get to use it with my grandchildren, or I may pass it on to their parents.

Frontal Communication
As in any relationship, front-to-front communication is vital in a marriage. The messages we hear when we are busy taking care of things in the home don’t always sink in. If something is important, come close (definitely don’t yell something from a different room), make eye-contact, and then check that your partner is ready to listen before speaking your truth. Usually, the month of Av is the month of vacation for the family to spend quality time together. It’s the time to leave our daily routine behind and put our relationships before the things that need to get done. This is, therefore, the prime time to show unconditional love by working on listening with our heart and full attention.

Strengthening Inner Hearing When Coming of Age

Perhaps one of the reasons that people loose hearing when they grow older could be according to the principle of “a turn for a turn.” When someone didn’t take proper advantage of the sense of hearing, then he may lose it. Moreover, being harder of hearing causes people to come closer to one another in order to be able to hear. When their external hearing is weakened it prompts them to strengthen their internal listening skills. This way Hashem helps people open their heart and grow closer as they gracefully age.

Listening to the Words of our Own Prayer
When we call out to Hashem in tefilah we expect Him to hear us, but do we hear our own prayer? Sometimes we may be rambling off the words of Grace after Meals, for example, while our mind is drifting to the preparations of tomorrow’s dinner or who knows what. In honor of the month of Av, and Hashem’s messages to me at this time, I decided to really listen my own prayers. This includes looking intently in the prayer-book and focusing on the words of the tefilah. So far it’s been quite an exhilarating experience, really tuning into what I’m asking of Hashem, rather than just getting the prayer ritual done. As I’m writing these words an email is flying in announcing how 1,000,000 Jews around the world will be reciting Shema Yisrael at the same time for the success and protection of our soldiers. The Shema Yisrael prayer has its source in last week’s parasha (Devarim 6:4), which not by chance is read during the zenith of the month of Av. As much as the Shema Yisrael – the centerpiece of Jewish Prayer, is about unifying Hashem in the world, it’s also about amplifying our sense of inner hearing. When we open ourselves to truly hear with our heart, we open ourselves to hear the inner voice of our own Neshama (soul). May we merit during the month of Av to really hear each other, Hashem and the words of our own prayers. May we thereby fix our relationships and become a pure channel for love and acceptance, and may we merit hearing the prayers of the Kohen Gadol in the Beit Hamikdash (Temple)!

The Month of Av: Tu b’Av and the Rise of the Feminine

A Secret Holiday for Women Dancing in the Vineyard
Tub’Av is a day veiled in secret, not much attention has been given to this holiday until recently. When we inaugurated Midreshet B’erot Bat Ayin with our first Tub’Av seminar 17 years ago, no-one had hardly heard about this mystical holiday. Yet, Tub’Av is mentioned in the Bible. The book of Judges calls Tub’Av “a yearly feast for Hashem in Shilo when the daughters would go out and dance in the vineyards” (Shoftim 21:18-21). Likewise the Talmudic lengthy discussion of the occurrences on this holiday centers around the theme of women and circular dance. What is the connection between Tub’Av and feminine dance? As mentioned in Mesechet Ta’anit, the daughters of Jerusalem used to go out on Tub’Av and dance in the vineyards while young men watched and chose whoever pleased them most. Although, in the secular Israeli pop culture, Tub’Av is known as ‘the holiday of love,’ such a spectacle would surely seem unacceptable today, according to religious standards of modesty – (tzniut). Yet, according to the Talmud, “There was never days as good for Israel as the fifteenth of Av and Yom Kippur when the daughters of Jerusalem would borrow white dresses and go out …” (Babylonian Talmud, Ta’anit 26b). Tu b’Av is the holiday that celebrates the Inner Feminine Lights, it is not accidental that it marks the birthday of Midreshet B’erot Bat Ayin: Holistic Torah for Women on the Land. Since its inception our Midrasha has celebrated Tu b’Av with bonfire and dancing in white borrowed dresses in our vineyard. Click here to donate in honor of the birthday of Midreshet B’erot Bat Ayin.

Marriages on Tu b’Av – Completing Adam
To appreciate the inner sanctity of Tub’Av we need to tune into its inner dimension. Tu b’Av is exactly 45 days prior to Rosh Hashana when אדם/Adam – the first human being was created. This mystical holiday, therefore, marks the spiritual essence of Adam whose numerical value is 45. The completion of the human being is to be married, just as originally Hashem created the first human being as both male and female (Bereishit 1:27). This fits in with the fact that Tub’Av occurs exactly 40 days before the first day of the Creation of the World (the 25th of Elul). Our soulmate is declared on high 40 days before conception as Chazal teach, “40 days before the formation of the fetus a heavenly voice comes out and proclaims “the daughter of so and so is created for to so and so”… (Babylonian Talmud, Sota 2a). This is one of the reasons why, marriages traditionally are celebrated on Tu b’Av. From Biblical times, it was established that every year on Tub’Av the daughters of Israel would go out and dance and whoever did not have a wife would find one then. Therefore, the day that the tribes were permitted to intermarry the first year after conquering the Land of Israel was explicitly on Tub’Av, likewise, on this day the tribe of Binyamin was permitted to intermarry with the rest of the tribes after this tribe had been ostracized, due to the terrible incident with the concubine in Givah (Shoftim, chapter 19-20), (B’nei Yissaschar, articles on Tamuz, Av, article 4).

Arousal from Below
What is the intrinsic inner connection between Tub’Av and Yom Kippur? Rabbi Raphael Moshe Luria explains that Tub’Av begins the season which culminates in Yom Kippur, wherein we prepare the Inner Lights (אור פנימי/ohr penimi). This occurs according to the kabbalistic concept of “Arousal from below” – which we perform by purifying ourselves from every impurity in thought, emotion, and deed. These are “good days for Israel” since there is nothing as good as that which we earn and deserve through our own hard work (Ori v’Yishi, Teshuva u’Tefila page 15). This implies that Tu b’Av marks the beginning of the period of repentance in preparation for the High Holidays – a period where we begin to work harder on ourselves to integrate the insights we have gained the last six month into our character.

The Generation of the Desert versus the Generation Entering the Land

Whereas the holiday of Tub’Shvat marks the beginning of the masculine season of the “Arousal from Above,” represented by the Generation of the Desert, the winter season beginning with Tub’Av corresponds to the feminine “Arousal from Below” represented by the generation who entered the Land of Israel. This is the time period when we really integrate all the lights of the summer and build proper vessels for them so we can keep them during the darker months of the winter. The summer season beginning with Tub’Shevat corresponds to the generation of the desert who merited to experience revealed miracles through Surrounding Lights, (אור מקיף/ohr makif). In the wilderness the Divine Lights shone only outside of the vessels, such as by the Clouds of Glory that surrounded them. However, the Lights did not penetrate inside of their inner vessels, since they had not yet purified them, meaning they had not integrated the lessons of Hashem’s miracles into their psyche. Therefore, despite witnessing such great revelations, the generation of the wilderness, repeatedly sinned. In contrast, the generation who entered into the Land, most of which were women, were righteous as it states about them, “They served Hashem all the days of Yehoshua and the elders” (Shoftim 2:7). They also did not require open miracles, for the Divine Lights shone from within their vessels. From the time of Tu b’Av, when the nights grow longer, we too, must build proper vessels by removing negative habits and increasing our Torah learning and mitzvah observance.

Preparing the Inner Vessels
The season of “Arousal from below” begins on Tub’Av and culminates with the awe of Yom Kippur. Tu b’Av thus leads up to the High Holidays which are called Yamim Noraim in Hebrew, literally ‘The Days of Awe.’ Although ‘Love’ is a greater level than ‘Awe’ we need the attribute of ‘Awe’ in order to prepare the vessels to radiate the Lights from within. The High Holidays is about crowning Hashem to be King over the world and over ourselves through our awe of G-d. We build awe of G-d by taking new mitzvot upon ourselves, by being careful with our actions, for example increasing the level of our tzniut, removing laxness, refining our speech and in general becoming more accurate in how we keep the mitzvot. This purification process builds a dwelling place for the Divine Light, through crowning G-d to become the “King of the whole land.” Only though Awe of G-d is it possible to purify oneself from negative character-traits, which block and prevent the Divine Light from entering inside of us. Therefore, in the book of Devarim, which was directed at the generation who entered the Land, it states, “And now Israel, what does Hashem your G-d ask of you except fear of G-d” (Devarim 10:12).

Purifying Intellect, Heart and Liver
There are three levels in this process of purifying our inner vessels, corresponding to the three inner vessels of intellect, heart, and liver. In Hebrew the initials of these three organs: Moach,-Brain, Lev- Heart, Caved- Liver, spell out the word מלך/Melech (King). Rosh Hashana is the time for purifying the intellect, as is indicated in the word ראש/Rosh, which means head. During the Ten Days of Repentance we purify our hearts by means of teshuva (repentance) which includes חרטה/charata – regret, ודוי/vidui – confession and קבלה לעתיד/kabbalah l’atid – accepting in our heart to better ourselves in the future. On Yom Kippur we purify the liver which represents our physicality, by abstaining from the physical including refraining from eating, drinking, wearing leader shoes, marital relations and using oil or creams on our skin.

The Onset of Our Purification Process

The process of preparing for Rosh Hashana by purifying our inner vessels of the intellect begins on Tub’Av. As tradition prescribes, we need to increase our Torah learning during the nights, which now begin to lengthen. The preparation process of the Ten Days of Repentance when we purify our hearts begins with the month of Elul whose initials are alluded to in the verse “U'mal Hashem Elokeicha et Levavcha v'et Levav zareicha” (“And Hashem will circumcise your heart and the heart of your children”). During this month we increase prayer which is the service of the heart. The custom during the Ten days of Repentance is to rise early and pray long supplications. This completes the purification of the heart and begins the purification of the vessel of the liver, which is completed on Yom Kippur, by fasting. The time from Rosh Hashana until Yom Kippur is also when we increase good deeds. For bestowing kindness to others purifies our drive for physical pleasures and materialism.

Building Malchut
Preparing the vessels for the Inner Lights is connected with building the sefira of Malchut – referred to as “the daughters of Jerusalem” and represents the feminine aspect of the Divine, the indwelling presence of the Shechina, in contrast to the masculine aspect of the Divine which is beyond the world, and therefore associated with Surrounding Lights. This is why Tub’Av has special significance for women. For the woman is the Malchut and the mainstay of her home. The reason why the daughters get dressed up in white dresses on Tu b’Av is to indicate that now begins the period of preparing the vessels and the garments, which must be white and pure, worthy for the Divine dwelling place. The matter of dancing in the vineyards is the circle dance that shows that we are like this circumference and vessel for the Inner Lights, to become a vineyard of G-d. The vineyard also alludes to the Inner Lights, as wine is found inside the grapes. Likewise the Land of Israel is also known to be the aspect of Malchut. Therefore, the women who were devoted to the Land of Israel made up the majority of the generation who entered the Land.

A Home for the Inner Lights
Bringing redemption is not though exterior fanfare and Surrounding Lights of Love, since “Grace is false and beauty is vain, a woman who fears G-d she shall be praised” (Mishlei 31:30). Tub’Av marks the beginning of the darker winter season when the Divine Lights are manifested and concealed within the vessels, which become as a home for the Light. “All the honor of a King’s daughter is inside.” (Tehillim 45:14). In the merit of the righteous women and with G-d’s help, we will merit the building of the Divine Home and the complete redemption.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Tisha B’Av Torah – Yearning to Rebuild

What is this Temple Business all about?
Rebbetzin Chana Bracha with her model of the Holy Temple
When I first came to Israel, to the Kotel (Western Wall) I was impressed with the Golden Mosque. When the woman from the Yeshiva, whom I had just met, told me, “We are going to get rid of it and build our own Temple in its place,” I was appalled. Here, I came from the tolerant Denmark and believed in the spirituality and rights of all people, and then my own religion again showed itself to be utterly narrow-minded and chauvinistic about its own rites, to the exclusion of everything which is beautiful and valuable to others. I had no idea of what the Temple represented in Judaism, and why it had been the main part of our prayer for thousands of years. I didn’t even know it was mentioned in our prayers at all. As I started to learn in yeshiva, I still did not understand why we were mourning on Tisha B’Av, but over the years I gradually got an idea of what this Temple business was all about.

Hashem – The Soul of the World
Rabbi Yehuda Halevi explains that G-d is the soul of the world... In the same way that our body and soul are connected by means of eating, G-d is connected with the world by means of the spiritual food of the Temple sacrifices. When the human body is properly nourished it is able to receive guidance from the soul. The soul does not inhabit the body in a physical sense, but rather is the body’s ruler and guide. Just as the soul benefits from the food we eat indirectly, so does the sacrificial offerings maintain the Jewish People in ‘good health’ and enable us to receive G-d’s Divine influence (Kuzari 2:26). Just as in the human body it is the breath of life which unites the body and soul, so does the fire of the sacrifices unite the Divine Presence with the physical world. Today, when we do not have the Temple we feel scattered and lost as the scattered bones of Yechezkiel’s vision. Nevertheless, these residual ‘bones,’ which once supported our head, heart, breath, soul and intellect, are genuine remains of our full natural vitality…” (Kuzari 2:29).

Finally Shaking our Scattered Bones Together

We can definitely feel the stirring as our ‘scattered bones’ are beginning to come together. I was moved when watching a u-tube of an elder chareidi Yiddish accented rabbi in black garbs leading his yeshiva in the recital of tehillim (psalms) for the welfare of the IDF! Something new in the achdut (unity) of the segments of Israel which I hadn’t experienced until now. I’m positive that this achdut between the diverse segments of Israel is what will bring the Mashiach. No wonder that Rav Nissim Shalom declared that his grandfather appeared to him in a dream and revealed to him that the Mashiach is at his door. If you still live outside Israel, I’m urging you to get ready to join us here. Things are definitely accelerating and you won’t want to miss the boat! A soldier in Gaza is amazed by the unity and elevated spirit he encounters in Israel. Almost every hour a car shows up overflowing with food, snacks, cold drinks, socks, underwear, hygiene supplies, backgammon and more. They’re coming from the North and the Center, from manufacturers, from companies and private businesses, from prisons, chareidim and Settlers, from Tel Aviv and even Saviyon. Chabad helps soldiers put on tefillin, while Breslov are dancing joyously with the soldiers. The chareidim are coming from their yeshivot to ask the names of the soldiers with their mothers’ names so that the whole yeshiva can pray for them. The Army Rabbinate has been giving out tzitzit that wick away sweat by the hundreds. Almost the entire Special Forces unit has started wearing them. It’s become the new fashion! They have been nicknamed “Shachpatzitzti” (a combination of the Hebrew term for body armor and tzitzit). I received an email from one of my students saying, “I saw it at the Central bus station, people are handing out t-shirts talking about unity in Israel! Chareidim are handing out Shabbat candles, and stopping people to recite tehillim.... the atmosphere in Yerushalayim is beautiful and electric.” As we mourn our fallen soldiers, we are growing closer and closer together realizing Hashem’s amazing miracles, protecting His people from the evil missiles aimed at destroying us. May we keep intensify the strengthening of our achdut, heartfelt prayers and acts of love for our fellow Jews. May our hearts open to receive the renewed reality when the Mashiach will lead us all together to the perfected world! Read on…..

The Sequence of Creation: Building, Destroying and Rebuilding
Rav Chia Rabba said, in the beginning of the Creation of the world, G-d foresaw the Temple, built, destroyed and rebuilt. “In the beginning G-d created,” (Bereishit 1:1) – built. “And the land was void and desolate,” (Bereishit 1:2) – Behold destroyed. “Let there be light,” (Bereishit 1:3) – behold rebuild and improved (Midrash Bereishit Rabbah 2:5). This Midrash teaches us that the destruction and rebuilding of the Temple was already incorporated in G-d’s master-plan from the beginning of Creation. Why did Hashem plan to destroy our Temple before it was even built? Perhaps we can compare this to the fact that every Jewish fetus learns the entire Torah in-vitro, yet at birth the angels strike him and all his Torah is forgotten. Throughout his life in this world, he has an innate yearning for the Torah of his womb. Similarly, Hashem placed the first human-being in the Garden of Eden knowing that He would sin and be expelled from Paradise, in order that we would be imbued with an innate yearning to return to the Garden.

Growing Fruits through Disintegration of the Seed

Through the destruction and downfall, the potential of something even greater is created. “The day that the Temple was destroyed Mashiach was born” (Eichah Rabbah 1:51). G-d has a secret and wise design for keeping us in exile for so long. This plan can be compared to the process of disintegration which a seed undergoes when it falls into the ground. As far as the human eye can see, the seed is transformed into earth and water as it rots. No trace is left of the seed itself. The truth, however, is that through Divine wisdom the seed dominates and influences the earth and the water, absorbing and transforming them into its own substance. This Divinely bestowed nature of the seed causes it to develop from one stage to the next, refining the external elements and using them to reach its initial stages of growth. After it takes root, the seed gradually expels its outer husk and other extraneous elements until the pure essence of the original seed begins to appear. In time the seed will have the ability to develop into fruits that duplicates the fruit from which the seed originally derived (Kuzari 4:22-23). This is what happened to the generations of Jews as well. Our grandparents left the Torah world and their children destroyed their Jewish homes by raising us with minimal Jewish values. However, the Jewish seed will always remain even in other external garments. Now the grandchildren and the great grandchildren are coming back to Torah, taking with us all the lessons of exile transforming them to become part of the Jewish experience. Although on the outside things may seem like they are decomposing and rotting, it is only part of the disintegration process which soon will yield its fruits.

Seeing Her Nakedness
“Yerushalayim has grievously sinned; therefore she has become as one unclean; all that honored, despise her, because they have seen her nakedness…” (Eichah 1:8). The Talmud explains that “her nakedness” refers to the way the gentiles, who destroyed our Temple, related to the embrace of the golden cherubs in the Temple, as if it was, G-d forbid, pornography. Reish Lakish said, when the idol-worshippers entered the sanctuary, they saw the cherubs embracing one another. They brought out the cherubs to the marketplace and exclaimed, “Israel whose every blessing and curse is fulfilled is involved with these kinds of things!” They immediately despised Israel, as it states, “all that honored her despise her, because they have seen her nakedness” (Babylonian Talmud, Yoma 54b). How would it then be possible that the enemies “saw her nakedness” when they put Jerusalem in siege? It is known that the cherubs are only facing one another when Israel is doing Hashem’s will (Babylonian Talmud, Baba Batra 99a). How could it then be possible that the cherubs were embracing one another at the time of the destruction of the Temple, when Israel was not doing Hashem’s will?

Separation Reawakens Love and Yearning
When true lovers are forced to separate from each other their love intensifies. Then the love between them is aroused even more, as their inner love is brought out to the surface, like the case of David and Yonatan when they had to separate from one another. The embrace of the cherubs therefore, represents the intensified love between Hashem and His people during the time of the destruction of the Temple (Rabbi Baruch Epstein, Torah Temima, Eichah 1:8). Just as G-d’s love for Israel was heightened at the time of separation, which the destruction of the Temple entailed, the yearning of Israel for redemption was intensified during exile. Kuzari explains that this love and yearning for the Holy Land helps speed the fulfillment and realization of the awaited promise, as it is said, “You will rise and have compassion on Zion, when its time to be favored will come, when the appointed time will come; when your servants will take pleasure in her stones and bestow their favor on her dust. (Tehillim 102:14-15) This teaches us that Jerusalem will be rebuild only when Jewry yearns for it to the extent that even its stones and dust are precious to us (Kuzari 5:27). G-d has incorporated the lowly state of exile within his master plan of Creation in order that we intensify our yearning for redemption, and thereby raise up the entire creation to become Hashem’s Sanctuary. It’s happening right now, as Hashem’s conduct in the world is shifting from hidden to revealed!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Av: Moving from Seeing to Hearing

Overcoming the Sickness of our Nation during the Month of Av
We are entering the month of Av in trepidation, Israel is at war, Israelis are staying home, refraining from vacationing while our brave soldiers are fighting on the front line. Almost everyone I know here in Israel either have sons who were called to the war in Gaza or know people who do.

War is scary, nerve-wracking and painful. Every time we hear of a loss of one of our soldiers, we realize that it is one of our sons, and perhaps also a father, husband or brother of one of us. As much as we wanted to avoid this war – any war and bloodshed, we are finally with Hashem’s help working on removing the evil which has been pestering our people since the beginning of the State of Israel, and more intensively since the expulsion from Gush Katif. Just as we need to fight the bacteria in order to heal a person, likewise, our people and our nation needs serious healing. Our nation has been sick ever since our temple – the heart of the word – was destroyed and we went into exile. Rabbi Yehuda Halevi wrote almost 1000 years ago, “The Jewish people today is like a body without either head or heart. It is more correct to say that Jewry today is not even a body, because in reality we are only scattered limbs, such as the “dry bones” which Yechezkiel saw in his vision (Yechezkiel 37), (Kuzari 2:333). We have experienced the revival of the dead, our nation coming to life out of the dry bones of the Holocaust furnace. Yet, it is not enough to take Israel out exile, now we need to take exile out of Israel. This includes the exile mentality of the ‘wishywashyness’ of tolerating evil. It is not by chance that the current war is taking place during the period ‘between the straights’ when we mourn the destruction of our temples.

The name AV is an acronym for the two nations that destroyed our Temple; Alef- Edom (Rome), who destroyed the second Temple and tormented us ever since, and Beit- Babylon, who destroyed the first Temple. The month of Av is both the month of our disease and the month in which we have the power to overcome it. “The day that the Temple was destroyed Mashiach was born” (Eichah Rabbah 1:51). Now is the time to pray for the healing of our nation, that all our limbs will be connected, so Hashem’s light can fill us with His presence, and that everything that threaten our existence will be eradicated speedily.

The name AV also means ‘father.’ Our Father is standing with outstretched arms waiting to hear our prayers. Let us cry out to our Father in Heaven from the deepest place of our heart; and implore him to end the war speedily with all of Hamas running away and Hashem’s name being sanctified!

Moving from Seeing to Hearing
We feel the sadness creeping in on us, when the month of Av approaches. This is the most depressing month of the year, for in this month our dear Temple was destroyed, and our glory with it. This year we are also adding the mourning for our dear soldiers, whose death may have been avoided if we waged war according to the laws of the Torah. The month of Av is a time of exploring the causes of losses in our lives, both our personal and communal losses. When we cry for Hashem during the month of Av it becomes a gateway to the heart, for through loss we learn what is true, what is essential. When our glorious Temple stood, we had prophecy because in the time of the Holy Temple everything was about seeing... “Three times in a year shall all your males be seen before Hashem your G-d in the place which He shall choose…” (Devarim 16:16). At the Beit HaMikdash we were not only seen, but we also could see. Rav Shlomo taught that even today our eyes are rectified at the Holy Wall. The Temple was destroyed because we didn’t love each other. The lack of love was a result of the judgment of seeing. After the destruction of the Temple we, therefore, lost the power of seeing; now, the only thing left is hearing. ‘Hearing’ is greater in some ways than ‘Seeing.’ Through seeing you can only see the outside, the skin but not the inside. Even if seeing may be the deepest outside, the holiest outside, it still remains the outside. There are things that are so close that you have to close your eyes completely. When you kiss somebody you love very much, you close your eyes. Babies are born with their eyes closed, as if they are telling their parents, “You are so close to me, I can’t even see you.” When we cry, one split second before the tear comes out, we have to close our eyes. This is because we only cry over something so close to us, that we can’t even see it. You don’t have to be that close, in order to see somebody. But to really hear somebody, you need to be a good friend. The closer you are to that person, the more you hear what he is saying. In this month, what you see, is terrible, its so terrible you can’t even bear it. The only way to bear this month is if you have good ears. The misuse of our faculty of hearing is at the root of all of the tribulations that we have suffered during the month of Av. According to the midrash, “the children of Israel wept that night” (Bamidbar 14:1) refers to the night of the ninth of Av when the spies of Moshe returned with the evil report concerning the Land of Israel. The unnecessary weeping of the Jews after hearing the evil report brought about that they had to weep in earnest, during that same time in generations to come. Therefore, the month of Av is about rectifying hearing.

The Goodness of Mourning
“He made the letter tet king over hearing, and He bound a crown to it and He combined one with another, and with them He formed Leo in the universe, Av in the year and the left kidney in the soul male and female” (Sefer Yetzirah 5:8). The shape of the letter ט /tet is very much like an ear, alluding to the rectification of the inner sense of hearing. The first time the letter tet appears in the Torah is in “G-d saw the light, that it was טוב/tov – good…” (Bereishit 1:4). From this the Talmud learns that “He who sees the letter tet in his dream, it is a good sign for him... Since Scripture began with it [the letter tet] for goodness” (Babylonian Talmud, Baba Kama 55a). When Hashem “saw the light,” G-d also saw the Mashiach coming on Tisha b’Av. “And he was there when Yerushalayim was taken” (Yirmeyahu 38:28). He said to him, even this is not sorrow, but happiness for in the selfsame day their consoler is born, and in the selfsame day Israel repented from their sins. Rabbi Shmuel son of Nachman said Israel performed complete repentance for their sins on the day that the Temple was destroyed, as it states: “The punishment of your iniquity is accomplished, O daughter of Zion; he will no more carry you away into exile” (Eichah 4:22), (Bamidbar Rabbah 13:5). The midrash is teaching us that even in the time when our Temple was destroyed, we should not be overtaken with sorrow and despair because within the destruction, the sprout of hope for redemption is born. It is through refining the sense of hearing that we will be able to hear the heralding of the forthcoming redemption even if what we can see on the surface is only destruction. This teaches us that even the days of mourning during the month of Av are beneficial for us. Most of the year we may be repressing all the losses and sadness of our lives, not wanting to truly deal with the traumas and pain that still taint our souls. However, the left kidney, the organ of this month, tells us about the negative, which needs to be rectified. During the cleansing period of the nine first days of the month of Av, we allow all our hidden hardships to surface and be released though our heartfelt tears. There is nothing more cleansing for the heart than tears of true mourning. The restrictive laws of the nine days help us process our pain, both personal and cosmic. When we go through mourning together, and share the pain, we grow closer together. We learn to once again to love each other unconditionally. When this happens the reason for our sadness will be lifted.

The Lion Came in the Month of Leo
The month of Av corresponds to the astrological fire sign of Leo. Fire destroys, but fire also gives strength, passion and life energy. In this month we experienced both the destructive fire of Tisha b’Av and the beneficial fire of Tu B’Av. The lion is the most royal of beasts, so is this month when kingdom will be restored to Israel. Both the destroyer of the first temple, Nevudchanetzar (Yermiyahu 4:7), and the rebuilder, Hashem (Amos 3:8) are referred to in the Bible as a “lion.” “The lion came in the month of the lion [Av] and destroyed the lion [the Temple especially with regard to the altar], in order that the lion [G-d] come in the month of the lion and rebuild the lion” (Yalkut Shimoni, Yermiyahu, 259).The Hebrew word for lion אריה/aryeh has the numerical value of 216 which also equals gevurah (“might”). Gevurah is about judgment, contraction and destruction through the diminution of Divine light and energy. Therefore, it states, “When Av enters we diminish in joy” (Mishnah Ta’anit 4:6). Yet, 216 also equals three times 72 which is the numerical values of chesed (“loving/kindness”). Chesed corresponds to the Divine power that “builds” all of reality, as it states, “the world is built by means of chesed” (Tehillim 89:3). Three times chesed also corresponds to the building of all three Temples, which find their eternal consummation in the third Temple, to be built speedily in our days! (Rav Yitzchak Ginsburgh, Gal Enai). Someone born in the astrological sign of Leo has a strong personality, full of fire and leadership. The Arizal was an example of such a person with true presence. Not only does “Ari” mean Leo, the holy Kabbalist was born on the fifth of Av during the astrological sign of Leo.

Being Called Back Home through Elevating Sparks

“Yehuda is a lions whelp; from the prey, my son, you are gone up: he stooped down, he couched as a lion, and as a lioness; who shall raise him up?” (Bereishit 49:9). From this verse Kedushat HaLevi learns that the main reason for exile is to raise up the sparks that fell from the husks through the sin of the first man. Israel suffers the suffering of exile until the time arrives when all evil is completed and when all the sparks will be elevated. Then surely there will be immediate redemption… We find that in this exile he is, so to speak, called a whelp, but at the redemption he will be called a lion. This is the meaning of “Yehuda is a whelp of the lion,” first he is a whelp and in the end a lion. When will he be called a lion? When all the sparks have been elevated this is the meaning of “from the prey my son you have risen.” May Hashem allow these sparks be elevated speedily so our righteous Mashiach can come amen! (Kedushat Halevi, Parashat Vayechi). Meanwhile we are still elevating sparks, but we have also begun to rise. What gave us the strength to hold out 2000 years until we finally were able to return to Eretz Yisrael? Rav Shlomo explains that it was not because of what we saw when we left. What we saw was the destruction. If we would only see, we would never have returned. You know why we came back? Because of what we heard when we left the Temple, didn’t we hear G-d’s voice telling us to come back??!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Tammuz: Between Weeping and Joy

Completing the Period of Judgment
Baruch Hashem, our midrasha is going strong! Our students are bravely strengthening their emunah as we all witness Hashem’s love for us and the amazing miracles of his protection. Bat Ayin is really relatively secure, and there was only once when the siren went off and we had to seek shelter in the security room of our neighbor. In other places of Israel this has happened more than tens of times during the last two weeks. I am glad that all our summer program students showed up except for one, and I pray that Hashem will continue to protect us and bring the geulah (redemption) soon.

There are 6000 years of Creation in which we have to go through all of the Ten Sefirot with their ten sub-sefirot in all of the Four Worlds of Emanation, Creation, Formation and Action until we reach Malchut (Royalty) of Malchut in the world of Action. This implies that every 150 years we enter a new sefirah, and that every 15 years we enter a new sub-sefirah. Therefore, in 5700 (1940) we entered the sefirah of Yesod (Foundation) in the World of Action. It makes perfectly sense that Israel laid the foundation of the Land of Israel after more than 2000 years of exile during the period of Yesod.

During the 60 years between year 5700- 5760 (1940-2000) we went through Keter of Yesod, Chachma of Yesod, Binah of Yesod, and Chesed of Yesod. I remember clearly during Rosh Hashana of year 5760 (2000) when the intifada began smack in the middle of our holiday celebration. This is because we entered Gevurah of Yesod precisely at that time. Gevurah is the time of harsh judgments and hardships. Therefore, this period also included the harsh expulsion and destructions of the beautiful communities of Gush Katif. Now the 15 year period of Gevurah of Yesod is drawing to an end Baruch Hashem. There is a principle that a power grows stronger just before it is finished from the world, so this is why at the end of the period of Gevurah of Yesod we are experiencing serious Gevurot in forms of massive missile attacks on Israel. Yet, with Rosh Hashana around the corner we can look forward to entering the time of harmony of Tiferet of Yesod.

May Hashem empower our brave soldiers to finish off the evil Hamas so that we can finally beat our “swords into plowshares, and spears into pruning-hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more” (Yeshayahu 2:4).

Between Weeping and Joy
We have entered the days of mourning bein hametzarim, (between the straights of the fast day of the seventeenth of Tamuz and the ninth of Av), when the Temples were destroyed. These two fast days reflect the primordial “breaking of the vessels” at the inception of creation. The vessels of the world were not strong enough to hold all the light, so they broke. At this time, we are especially called to rectify this underlying imperfection of reality, “elevating the fallen sparks,” by watching our tongue even more carefully and beware of anger and jealousy while working on love, compassion and unity. I have played my last songs on my guitar and packed it away for the next three weeks. Although this is a mourning period, there is still an ongoing existential tension between sorrow and joy during these three weeks as it states, “Weeping is wedged in my heart on this side, and joy is wedged in my heart on the other side” (Zohar 3 75a).

On the 17th of Tamuz, Moshe was to descend with the two tablets of law and begin the process of fixing the world. This is why Aharon told the people who were pleading with him to make them a god to lead them, “Tomorrow is a holiday to Hashem” (Shemot 32:5). Aharon saw in prophetic spirit that in the future the 17th of Tamuz would become a holiday for Israel. Likewise, the return of the spies on the 9th of Av was supposed to be the beginning of the Jews preparing to enter the land from where they would fulfill the mission to be a “light unto the nation.” This is why we always read the parshiot of Matot and Masai, which describe the division of the Land of Israel, during this time when we mourn the exile from the land. We are thus comforted and assured that the promise of inheriting the land will take place in the future at this time (B’nei Yissaschar, Articles on Tamuz and Av, Between the Straights, article 2:2).

Goodness Concealed within Mourning
The great paradox of these weeks and the deeper teaching they hold for us is that both fast days were meant for great joy and accomplishment. Soon the 17th of Tamuz will be turned into a holiday celebrating the rebuilding of the Temple. 17 is the numerical value of the word טוב/tov – good, reflecting its becoming a יום טוב/Yom Tov – holiday (literally Good Day) together with the rest of the minor fast days written in the prophets, as it states, “The fast of the fourth month, and the fast of the fifth, and the fast of the seventh, and the fast of the tenth, shall be to the house of Judah joy and gladness, and cheerful seasons; therefore love truth and peace” (Zechariah 8:19). The remaining 13 days of the month of Tamuz likewise reflect Hashem’s mercy, as these days correspond to the 13 attributes of Mercy that Moshe brought down during these 13 days following the sin of the Golden Calf that took place on the 17th of Tamuz. These attributes are: “Hashem, Hashem, G-d merciful and gracious, long-suffering and abundant in goodness and truth; keeping mercy unto the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin… (Shemot 34:6-7). So during these 13 days it seems especially appropriate to work on kindness and forgiveness, reflecting these 13 attributes of mercy within our thoughts, speech and actions.

Days of Divine Sanctifying
Hashem proclaims וְנִקְדַּשְׁתִּי בְּתוֹךְ בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל/v’nitkadashti b’toch b’nei Yisrael – “and I will be sanctified within the children of Israel” (Vayikra 22:32). Specifically the word בְּתוֹךְ/ b’toch –within, which has the same numerical value as מרגלים עגל/egel meraglim – the Calf and the Spies. (The sin that caused the fast day of the 17th of Tamuz and that which caused the fast day of the 9th of Av). The potential of both days was squandered and now it is left for us to restore these months to their original purpose by performing the necessary rectifications. From within our darkness the light will shine. Mashiach is born on Tisha B’Av, (the ninth of Av) and redemption will come out of exile and joy out of sorrow. We must take current events and our own personal trials and see the deeper messages we are being sent. By attuning our inner eye to the unity and oneness of G-d and our inner ear to His constant messages to each one of us, we will know how to contribute what we can to creating a world in which Hashem will be sanctified. The sum of the hours within the 17th of Tamuz and the 9th of Av if you subtract Shabbats, Rosh Chodesh and the last six hours of the Tisha b’Av also equals the numerical value of בְּתוֹךְ/ b’toch. This is the time for us to enact sanctifications of Hashem, by continuing to build His land with fear of no-one but Hashem.

Times of Protection from Chutzpah and Forgiveness
Our Sages proclaimed, “Every generation in whose times the Beit HaMikdash (Temple) is not rebuilt is considered as though that generation was the one in which it was destroyed (Yerushalmi Talmud, Yoma 1:1). Yet, it is also taught that the day that the Temple was destroyed all the sins of Israel were forgiven, as Hashem poured his wrath on wood and stones in order that the children of Israel would be spared (Midrash Tanchuma, Parashat Shemini, 9). In this vein we can explain, “Whoever lives in the times when the Beit HaMikdash is not rebuilt is considered as though the Temple was destroyed in his time,” to imply that this person is worthy that Hashem will forgive his or her sins (B’nei Yissaschar, Articles on Tamuz and Av, Between the Straights, article 2:15).

One of the last songs I played before I packed away my guitar was,אַתָּה תָקוּם תְּרַחֵם צִיּוֹן כִּי עֵת לְחֶנְנָהּ כִּי בָא מועד:/Ata takum, t’rachem tzion ki et l’chenena ki va moed – “You arise and have mercy on Tzion for it is time to bestow it grace, as the time has come” (Tehilim 102:14). Why do we need the word אַתָּה/ata when in Hebrew the verb תָקוּם/takum – ‘you arise’ includes the personal pronoun? B’nei Yissaschar explains that the word אַתָּה/ata has a special power to protect us from chutzpah which is prevalent during the times of Mashiach (Babylonian Talmud, Sota 49b). Isn’t this what we are experiencing right now in Hashem’s mercy? (B’nei Yissaschar, Articles on Tamuz and Av, Between the Straights, article 2:13).

The Dangers that Outweigh Coming to Israel Now

We understand the concern about the current political climate. Nevertheless, we believe it is vital to continue to come to Israel as this is our only future as Jews. Perhaps you are familiar with the story about Rabbi Akiva and the fish and the fox? They asked Rabbi Akiva why he was not afraid to learn Torah when the Roman’s had forbidden it, and why he risked being caught and executed. He answered with the following parable: The fox asks the fish “how can you not be afraid to swim in the water when there are so many fishermen trying to catch you. Why not escape this danger by emerging from the water?” The fish responded, “True, there are dangers lurking in the waters, however, outside of the waters I surely have no chance of survival.” The Torah is compared to water. Just like the fish cannot survive outside of the water, so can a Jew not survive without Torah (Midrash Tanchuma, Parashat Ki Tavo, 2). I believe we can apply this parable exactly to the situation in the Land of Israel today. True, the political situation is difficult here, but the dangers of being estranged from the closeness with G-d and actualizing our spiritual potential outside of Israedl by far outweighs the dangers of coming here.

Becoming Taller than our Sins

During the dark times we need emunah to see beyond the surface of nature. We have to remember who we are and Who Hashem our Redeemer is. The Piasetzner says that we should be taller than our sins. We have forgotten that we are princes and princesses. When we look at our land with the love and devotion as a mother looks upon her children, then our power will be infinite. Tanya explains that when two people are wrestling even if one is superior physically, if he is in low spirits and lacking determinism and the other is full of excitement, the one who is inferior in physical strength may win regardless. Let us not be lost in the pain of contraction and lose the vision of the baby who is to be born. Let us have emnua in Hashem Who performs miracles transcending nature and also in ourselves and in our infinite capacity and power when we perform His will.

In this month there are many dinim (judgments): The breaking of the tablets, and the breach of the wall around Yerushalayim. However, in this month there is also a lot of possibility for rectification. It all depends on our perspective. Compared to the Hebrew letter ה/heh, the shape of the ח/chet, which is the letter of this month, can seem like a shape from which there is no escape. Yet, it is possible to view the ח/chet as a frame and Chuppah (marriage canopy), which protects us. Had the Israelite not been led astray to make the Golden Calf, then Moshe would have brought us down the first tablets, and the 17th of Tamuz would have been a holiday to Hashem. When we prove our steadfast emunah in Hashem and await the Mashiach with patience, we will b”H live to celebrate the transformation of the weeks of mourning as days of “joy and gladness, and cheerful seasons!”

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The World is Created for the Sake of Redeeming the Eyes of Tamuz and Av

Beyond our Petty Fearful World of Limitations
There are so many teachings about the power of the eyes with reference to the Month of Tamuz. Our eyes influence our entire word view and perception of reality. The pupil is called אישון/ishun – little person in Hebrew because the essence of our being is imprinted within the pupil of our eye. When Mashiach comes, our eyes will be opened and we will perceive a whole new dimension of existence. The time when prophecy once again will be returned to Israel is drawing nearer.

According to Arizal, every month is the aspect of one of the limbs of the head, Tamuz is the right eye and Av is the left eye. This is why it states, due to the destruction of the Temple during the month of Av, (Eichah 1:16) “My eye, my eye runs down with water” (Sha’ar Hakavanot, Derushei Rosh Hashana 1). These eyes will be rectified and illuminated during the time of redemption when Pinchas Eliyahu comes in the numerical value of two times eye.  (פנחס/Pinchas 208 +אליהו /Eliyahu 52=260), עין/ayin – eye (130 x 2 =260) (B’nei Yissaschar, Articles on the Months of Tamuz and Av 1:4).

Today, many of us are wearing glasses at least for driving or reading. Just as our physical sight is impaired, so is our spiritual sight, as long as we experience hester panim, (the hiding of His face). I can’t wait to get rid of my glasses for good, so I better get going on developing a more spiritual inner vision. I was thinking about how the word for fear in Hebrew יראה/yirah is similar to the word for sight ראיה/reiyah. The two words share the exact same letters in Hebrew. I want to venture to say that when we are consumed by fear it closes our channel of true vision. In the wake of the recent tragic events in Israel most people that I have come in contact with have been strengthened in their emunah. Yet, there are those whose fear has been instigated and sadly, some have even cancelled their plans of coming to Israel. There is so much to fear in this world, between fear of terrorist attacks, accidents and illnesses G-d forbid. All these fears are fallen fears and their rectification is in the fear or awe of G-d. Because we cannot see G-d it is also hard to fear Him. The more we  internalize how G-d stand right in front of us and “His eye sees, His ear hears, and all our deeds are written in the book” (Pirkei Avot 2:1), the more we can cultivate awe of G-d. With this awe of G-d there is no place for other fears. As King David taught us, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for you are with me…” (Tehillim 23:4). I found that when we have sunken to the bottom of the darkest fear, singing this verse from Tehillim, repeatedly helps immensely. Then just then, when we are able to relax our fears a bit by connecting with Hashem’s goodness, then we may get even a glimmer of a higher reality beyond our petty fearful world of limitations.

Redemption is Dependent of Fixing the Eyes of Israel
Since our eyes are our essence “A bride (alluding to the congregation of Israel), whose eye are beautiful doesn’t need any further checking,” (Babylonian Talmud, Ta’anit 24a) The opposite is also true G-d forbid. When Moshe hesitated to accept his mission as the redeemer of Israel he said, “Please My Master, Send, please by the hand of whom you will send” (Shemot 4:13)  Targum Yonatan translates it, “Send by Pinchas Eliyahu, whom you will send in the future in the end of days.” Moshe realized that since he wouldn’t be enacting the final tikun (rectification) of fixing the eyes of all of Israel, then he didn’t see any point in even beginning this process. At the burning bush it states, “When Hashem saw that he turned aside to see” (Shemot 3:4), the Hebrew word for turning aside – סָר/sar  shares the numerical value of two times עין/ayin – eye. Moshe, our rabbi and the greatest prophet of all times, looked deeply and peered into the future and saw that the two months of Tamuz and Av would not be completely rectified and illuminated until the final redemption, when Pinchas Eliyahu with the numerical values of two eyes will arrive. This is why Moshe requested, “Please send by the hand of (Pinchas Eliyahu), as Yonatan translated (B’nei Yissaschar, Articles on the Months of Tamuz and Av 1:4).Moshe understood that the final redemption is dependent on fixing the blemish of the eyes of Israel reflected in the calamities that took place during these two months. The root of our impaired vision stems from the impatience and narrow-mindedness we exhibited at the Golden Calf, created on the 17th of Tamuz. Being separated from our leader, Moshe, we lost our higher spiritual perspective and sought refuge in the physical tangible figure apparition of the Golden Calf.  Turning to the earth for our salvation removed part of our connection with Heaven. Therefore, the spies who toured the land during the month of Tamuz and the first 9 days of Av lost their trust in their Higher Power and succumbed to the fear of the flesh of blood inhabitants of the Land. Prophecy can only shine forth through simcha, (happiness). The sadness of the months of Tamuz and Av with their respective fast days lessen our expanded vision. Our vision will only be fully healed in the time of our redemption when the fast days will turn into days of celebration.

Beholding at the Land of Israel with Rectified Vision

Although Moshe Rabbeinu was aware that he would be unable to enact the final redemption by fixing the blemish of vision, he nevertheless requested of Hashem, “Please, let me see the land” (Devarim 3:25). Through looking at the Land of Israel with the prophetic eyes of Moshe Rabbeinu – the eyes of so much desire and yearning for the spiritual land, he would at least be able to enact a partial rectification. Moshe’s seeing the land weaved another strand of the fabric of redemption begun by Avraham when Hashem first told him, “Go to the land which I will show you” (Bereishit 12:1). We too, can continue the tapestry of redemption when we look at the Land of Israel with desire, love and admiration. When we look for the Divine supervision so inherent in the Land, overcoming the fear of the spies, we have an opportunity to uncover glimpses of the hidden light and bring the final rectification of vision one step closer.

Reverting our Perspective
The permutation of the month of Tamuz is Heh/Vav/Heh/Yud this Name denotes judgment as it is in the opposite order of the name Yud Keh Vav Keh (שם המפורש)/shem hameforash which symbolizes complete chesed (kindness). However, it all depends on our perspective of seeing. This month is a month of reversals. There is a reversal of the Divine permutation. If we look at the permutation of the month in the mirror, the name of Yud Keh Vav Keh itself appears. The mirror is a great tool for reverting our perspective. When we fall prey to judgmental vision, we can work on seeing the shortcomings of others as a mirror for our own character development process. Therefore, through the sense of seeing we have the ability to transform the judgments into complete chesed.  When we become masters of mirroring we may be able to see beyond the revealed reality, connect with the hidden light and rise beyond our nature.

Walking Backwards for the Sake of Walking Forward

The astrological sign of the Month of Tamuz is Cancer.  Cancer is a crab that walks backwards.  At times we need to go backward for the sake of going forward. We need to go backwards in order to undo and clean up the mess we have created. The first thing I look for when I learn a new program on the computer is where is the undo button! So this month is about undoing about undoing the sin of the Golden Calf, and of the spies. It is about undoing narrow minded fears and divisions in order to tap into the all-inclusive greater light with which we can see all of Israel with renewed eyes beyond any trace of fallen fear.  חַדֵּשׁ יָמֵינוּ כְּקֶדֶם: chadesh yameinu k’kedem – “Renew our days as beforehand” (Eichah 5:21).

The Creation of the World For the Sake of Redeeming the Eyes of Israel
Hashem created the world in order to rectify and illuminate the eyes of the congregation of Israel – that is to rectify the two months of Tamuz and Av which are called eyes. It is accepted knowledge from the earliest kabbalists (Pirkei Heichalot  Hakadmot, Chapter 39), that the names of Mashiach ben Yosef is Nechamia ben Chushiel, and that of Mashiach ben David is Menachem ben Emanuel. Together with the name of Eliyahu who will herald the coming of Mashiach these three redeemers have the same numerical value as בראשית/Bereishit. Mashiach ben Yosef, Mashiach ben David and Eliyahu are alluded to in the first word of the Torah (Bereishit), to indicate that only when these three redeemers come, then יִשְׂמַח הָשֵׁם בְּמַעֲשָׂי/Yismach Hashem b’ma’asav – will Hashem be happy with his creation (Tehillim 104:11). The word יִשְׂמַח/yismach contains all the letters of מָשִׁיחַ/Mashiach.

The Torah ends with the sentence, “In the eyes of all Israel” (Devarim 34:12). It is amazing how the end of the Torah is wedged within its beginning.  בְּרֵאשִׁית בָּרָא אֱלֹקיִם/bereishit bara Elokim (Bereishit 1:1) – G-d created the word for the sake of bereishit – the three redeemers. May they come speedily in our days to redeem us with everlasting redemption! (B’nei Yissaschar, Articles on the Months of Tamuz and Av 1:4).

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Tamuz: Do you want to be a student of Avraham Avinu or a student of Bilam the wicked?

Tamuz is a challenging month of being tested.  Ya’acov and Esav divided the year between them.  In the end Ya’acov was able to recover most of the months of the year, yet Tamuz and Av remained under the domain of Esav.   Therefore, we must work hard to overcome the many challenges of this month, and reach deeply into our hidden resources to stay focused and connected. Here in Israel, we could really feel the shift as soon as the month of Tamuz kicked in.

Already on Rosh Chodesh, the unbearable heavy heat of the burning summer marked the onset of the month. Now, our people are in tears, after 18 days of praying, taking on extra mitzvoth and guarding our tongue. On the third of Tamuz, the Lubavitch Rebbe’s 20th Yahrtzeit (anniversary of passing) the bodies of these three pure and holy Yeshiva students were found.

I cry with their mothers, as I try to hold on to my own Yeshivah student son, age 17. I can look forward hugging him tight when he comes home next time for Shabbat, but the mothers of the three will never ever hug their sons again! How can we bear all this pain. We prayed so hard, “Bring our boys home!” Hashem brought them home – home to Himself in the world of truth. He calls home the holiest, the purest, like the yeshiva students from Mercaz Ha’Rav several years ago. 

There is a dispute in the Talmud whether Israel will be worthy of redemption even if we don’t do teshuvah (repent).  Rav said, all the ends will be completed, this thing is only dependent on teshuvah and good deeds, but Shemuel said it is enough to the mourner that he shall stand in his mourning…  Rashi explains that the pain of exile is enough for Israel to merit redemption even without teshuvah. So when Hashem calls home the holy and pure, within our tears is the comfort that through this suffering and mourning, the final Redemption is near. Even as the going gets rough we need to keep going – keep coming to Israel without fear and trust that there are still blessings to glean even in the month of Tamuz.

The great effort which we must employ to bring down blessings at this time takes place through our eyes.  “He who has a good eye will be blessed for he gave from his bread to the poor.  A good eye – the eye of mercy and generosity towards others has the ability to draw down blessings. For with a good eye we connect with Hashem’s attributes. Conversely, an evil eye minimizes his influence from Above. 

This connects us to the parasha of the week, Parashat Balak, which describes how the wicked Bilam attempted to curse the Jewish people through his eyes. It is interesting to notice that the word עַיִן/ayin – ‘eye’ is mentioned 13 times in our parasha  corresponding to the 13 attributes of mercy. Moreover, the gematria (numerical value) of the Hebrew word for עַיִן/ayin – ‘eye’ is 130, its small gematria being 13. Thirteen is a very interesting number; it bonds multiplicity into oneness. This is why both the Hebrew word אַהֲבָה/ahava – love and אֶחָד/echad – one, share the numerical value of thirteen. When we unite in love, the multiplicity of our individualities merges to become one.  This concept of the unity and oneness of Hashem is hard for the other nations to grasp this is why for them the number 13 is an unlucky number. In Judaism it’s the opposite. We have 13 tribes (including Efrayim and Menashe) and attributes of mercy. Therefore, Avraham our father who is known for his love and kindness towards humanity, discovered the oneness of Hashem. Whoever possesses the following three traits is of the disciples of our father Avraham; and whoever possesses the opposite three traits is of the disciples of the wicked Bilam. The students of our father Avraham have a good eye, a meek spirit and a humble soul. The students of the wicked Bilam have an evil eye, a haughty spirit and a gross soul. 

When we cultivate “a good eye” we develop the character-trait of רַחֲמִים/rachamim – mercy, to really care about others with our full heart like Avraham did. In contrast becoming a student of Bilam by looking at others with an evil eye entails succumbing to the character-trait of כַּעַס /ka’as – anger.  Perhaps the connection between giving out an evil eye and anger is that anger is an extraneous negative spirit which can enter a person when involved in impurity. It is not really part of the person, therefore one who gets angry upon returning to oneself usually regrets whatever he or she said and did during the anger burst. Likewise, giving an evil eye to others is giving an extraneous spirit entry way through the eyes. Focusing on our personal blessings and working on feeling good about ourselves is the best shield against the entry of any kind of negative spirit.

Looking for the Good Points                                                         
It is Hashem’s way to look at the good that we do even if some of our actions are not good. We learn this from the Torah verse of this week’s parasha, “He has not seen iniquity in Ya’acov.”  Likewise, we need to give the benefit of the doubt even to a complete wicked person, because it is impossible that no good point can be found in him. We also need to find good points in ourselves. Even when we feel really badly about ourselves, we need to look at ourselves in a different light and search from within the negative some good points in order to revive ourselves.  Rabbi Eliezer holds that the best trait for a person to acquire is a good eye.  This is because the first טוֹב/ tov – good mentioned in the Torah is connected with seeing the light. וַיַּרְא אֱלֹהִים אֶת הָאוֹר כִּי טוֹב. –“And G-d saw the light that it was good.”  This is also the first time seeing is mentioned in the Torah. From here we learn that the purpose of our sense of vision is to see the good – to see the light within all reality. So next time when you notice something ugly or someone behaving in a bad way, see if you can go deeper beyond the surface to find something beautiful within the ugly, and a good point within the negative behavior. Try to implement this exercise at least throughout the month of Tamuz.

Emunah in Hashem and being Happy with our Portion
Being צר עין /tzar ayin – stingy emanates from the aspect of כפירה/kefira – denial of Hashem.  This is because stinginess often comes from fear that there won’t be enough left for ourselves if we share freely. The more emunah we cultivate, the more generous we can become, as we learn that the more we give, the more Hashem replenishes us, and takes care of all our needs.  The same way, the more a baby suckle, the more milk is created in the breasts of her mother. It states עַשֵּׂר תְּעַשֵּׂר/aser ta’aser –”You shall truly tithe…”  The double Hebrew language can be understood as a pun. The word ta’aser (tithe) is similar to tit’asher (become rich). Therefore the midrash teaches us that the meaning of the verse is “you shall tithe in order to become rich.”  In other words, the more we develop a good eye to give generously, the more blessings of abundance we will receive. Although it is not allowed to test Hashem as it states, “Don't test Hashem...”  Here is an exception, as Rabbi Hoshiah said, it states, “Bring the whole tithe to my treasury so that there is food in my house. And please test me in this says the Hashem of Hosts, if I will not open the windows of Heaven and pour out a blessing on you until there is more than enough.”  

Two Eyes – Two Ways of Looking
We are used to think that the first original sin was eating from the Tree of Knowledge. In reality, it was looking at the Tree of Knowledge actually preceded the eating and caused our exile from Eden. “The Woman saw that the tree was good for food and that it was desirable for the eyes… Both of their eyes were opened and they knew that they were naked…  Hashem created everything with wisdom. Therefore, He created us with two eyes to allude to the fact that there are two kinds of seeing, to the right or the left – the world to come, or this world. Likewise, in the heart there are two chambers, “The heart of the wise to his right…”  The vision of the eye depends on the heart, it is all one matter. The Zohar explains that we cover the eyes of the dead, because at the time of his death he sees the face of the Shechina, therefore he should no longer see in this world.  Moshe Rabbeinu saw with clear vision even in this world. He never saw anything distorted, therefore his eye did not dim.  “Moshe was 120 years old when he died, his eye was not dim nor his natural force abated.”  It is written “his eye” in singular language, for it refers to his right eye with which he had a special vision beyond this world of judgment. In contrast, about Bilam it is written שְׁתֻם הָעָיִן/sh’tum ha’ayin – a blind eye,  referring to him being blind in his right eye. He could only see through his left eye, the eye of judgment and negativity. Average people look with both of our eyes… But both of Moshe Rabbeinu’s eyes were like his right eye which was good, as it states about him “She saw him that he was good.”  This is the opposite of what happened when Adam and Chava’s two eyes were opened and they knew that they were naked. Through eating from the Tree of Knowledge two kinds of looking were created.  This brought about the exile from Paradise, the prototype of all exiles. Just as we were expelled from Eden through misuse of eyesight, likewise the ultimate redemption will take place through rectified vision.

Let us start now working on our sense of vision, avoiding looking at the neighbor’s greener grass, rather seeing the good in our own portion, finding good points even when we are disappointed with ourselves, and developing an ayin tovah, sending out light and blessing to everyone around us!