Tuesday, September 30, 2014

How is Teshuvah on Yom Kippur Different?

Rebbetzin with Pomegranates from her garden

How is Teshuvah on Yom Kippur Different than on all Other Days?
The Gift of Yom Kippur
I used to think that Yom Kippur was a sad day – a day of fasting and abstinence from all pleasures (Vayikra 16:31). In truth, Yom Kippur is the greatest gift Hashem ever has bestowed upon the Jewish people. One day a year He gives us the opportunity to wipe our slate clean and erase all the misspelled scribbles of the year. All we have to do is apply that eraser called teshuvah. The Talmud teaches that there were never days as happy as Tub Av and Yom Kippur when the daughters of Jerusalem would go out in white dresses and dance in the vineyards, asking the young men to choose a wife from among them (Mishnah Ta’anit 4:8). Could it be that just as Tu b’Av is a day dedicated to love, so is Yom Kippur? We all know that first and foremost Yom Kippur is a day dedicated to teshuvah. Rashi explains from the language “but” – “But on the tenth of the seventh month is Yom HaKippurim (Day of Atonement)” (Vayikra 23:27), that atonement is contingent upon teshuvah. This sounds like a gift with strings attached! Well, all the nicest gifts are artfully wrapped with bows and ties. Just as you need to open the wrapping in order to receive and access the gift, we must earn our gift of kaparah (atonement) by means of earnest teshuvah. Without employing ourselves in teshuvah, the gift of Yom Kippur may pass us by unopened. So how do we do this teshuvah so vital for the success of our yearly spiritual detox? Aren’t we supposed to always engage in teshuvah? Then how is teshuvah on Yom Kippur different from teshuvah throughout the year? Please read on as I will b”H shed light on these questions through the teachings of Rabbis Raphael Luria and Shlomo Carlibach.

Teshuvah during the Year
Actually according to the Rambam there is no explicit mitzvah to do teshuvah during the year. The only part of teshuvah which is continually mandatory thought-out the year is vidui (confession). Note the language of Rambam: “If a person transgressed any of the mitzot of the Torah whether unintentionally or intentionally, when he does teshuvah and repents from his sin he is obligated to confess before G-d as it states, “A man or a woman if they transgress… they must confess their transgression that they committed…” (Bamidbar 5:6-7), (Rambam, Hilchot Teshuvah 1:1). Why would the Torah not obligate us to repent during the year except on Yom Kippur? The truth is that not all of us are capable to fully repent except for on Yom Kippur. Hashem, therefore, would never give us a mitzvah or any challenge which supersedes our capacity. When a person sins, his heart becomes blocked, as it states, “one sin leads to another” (averah goreret averah) (Pirkei Avot 4:2). The only kind of teshuvah which is still open for him during the year is incomplete teshuvah – teshuvah from fear of punishment. This lower kind of teshuvah is mentioned in the Torah in Parashat Nitzavim, which we read the Shabbat preceding Rosh Hashana. There it states, “You will return until (עד הָשֵׁם/ad Hashem)” (Devarim 30:2) in a partial teshuvah – “until Hashem” but not yet cleaving to Hashem. This complete teshuvah of cleaving to Hashem only appears in the continuation of the section as a description of what will happen at the end of days after Hashem will circumcise our heart and thus unblock it. Only then will we return into (אֶל הָשֵׁם/el Hashem) our G-d with all our heart and all our soul (Devarim 30:10). This kind of teshuvah is available to every Jew once a year on Yom Kippur, when Hashem unblock our heart and help us to purify ourselves from the קְלִיפּוֹת/klipot (shells) as it states, “…You shall purify yourself before Hashem” (Vayikra 16:30).

Teshuvah from Fear versus Teshuvah from Love
Yet, on Yom Kippur all the doors open to each and every Jews, to return to Hashem with a full heart, not only through fear but through pure love. This is the kind of teshuvah with which we can rewrite our past and turn our sins into shining mitzvot (Babylonian Talmud, Yoma 86b). Through teshuvah from fear, which motivates many of us during most of the year, we think about what will happen to us after death. Yet, teshuvah from love is about feeling an earnest desire to bask in Hashem’s light. Thus, King David had only one request, “…to sit in the house of Hashem all the days of my life, and behold the gracious sweetness of Hashem… (Tehillim 27:4). On Yom Kippur we are all lifted up to experience this sweetness. On this holiest day of the year a special light of chesed illuminates our da’at to contemplate on the greatness and importance of Israel standing before Hashem. The illumination of unity between all of Israel with ourselves, each other and Hashem inspires us to feel immense regret in our heart that we became distanced from the light of the face of the living King (Based on Rabbi Rephael Luria, Ori v’Yishi, Yamim Noraim pp. 265-268). When we return in teshuvah together on Yom Kippur we can reach the greatest place of love – then love of Hashem and love of Israel becomes one. Perhaps this is why the daughters of Jerusalem would dance in white unifying dresses on Yom Kippur and look to find grace in the eyes of their beloved soul-mate.

Overcoming Judgment through Teshuvah from Love
Rav Shlomo Carlebach explains the difference between teshuvah from fear and teshuvah from love as follows: When we do teshuvah from fear we focus on the sins we committed and the mitzvot we neglected to keep, whereas teshuvah from love is about drawing the gracious sweetness of Hashem upon us. Through teshuvah from fear we lack love of all our fellow Jews in our heart. We may do teshuvah and start keeping Shabbat immaculately, yet avoid saying Shabbat Shalom to those old friends who don’t yet keep Shabbat. This would never happen if we did teshuvah from love. The reason for this is that when we do teshuvah out of love and become so close to Hashem, then we get filled with light and happiness. We become so thankful to Hashem that we merited to know how a Jew is supposed to keep Shabbat. Then when we see another Jew who doesn’t yet know how to keep Shabbat, our heart goes out in pain for him. We don’t hate him, we only feel badly for him. We tell ourselves, “How I wish that he will also merit this closeness to Hashem. How I wish that all of Israel would merit this!” Yet, if I didn’t truthfully and with my whole heart want to keep Shabbat, but I do it out of fear, out of obligation. Then when I see another Jew who doesn’t keep Shabbat, I actually become jealous of him, and hate him. Because deep down I’m angry that I can’t have fun like him on Shabbat (Rav Shlomo Carlibach, Lev Hashamayim pp.144-145).

This Rosh Hashana, we held a grand Seder hosting 22 people. As we went around the table sharing what we wanted to shed and what we wanted to take on this year, a recurrent theme was the desire to let go of judgment. So many of us seem to be working unsuccessfully on this for so long. When I read the above Torah from Rav Shlomo I finally understood why it’s so hard to stop judging others “who are not on our level” of mitzvah observance. Since many of us are keeping the mitzvot out of obligation – without the deepest devotional commitment of love, we cover our subconscious jealousy of our ‘frei’ friend from ourselves in layers of judgment. On Yom Kippur we have the ability to rise to a place of infinite love beyond judgments and division. Let us together reach the highest place of the sweetest light of unified purity beyond religious hierarchy!

G’mar Chatimah Tovah to all of us! 
May we be sealed in the Book of Gracious Life!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Reconnecting the Dispersed Pieces

Preparation for Rosh HaShanah
The Month of Tishrei: Reconnecting the Dispersed Pieces of our Personal Puzzle
Moving Deeper into Teshuvah – Returning to Our Inner Core
As we move from Elul to Tishrei, we move deeper into teshuvah and deeper into ourselves. Adam was created on Rosh Hashanah and ate from the Tree the very day he was created – on Rosh Hashanah! Rav Kook explains that eating from the Tree was not so much a sin against Hashem than it was a betrayal of self (Rav Kook, Orot HaKodesh 3, p. 140). When Adam and Eve accepted the opinion of the snake, they lost themselves. Rather than tuning into their inner truth where mind and heart becomes one, they listened to the serpent. Eating from the fruit of the Tree of Good and Evil – the Tree of Uncertainty – they brought the uncertainty of the world into their very being. As the juice flooded into their mouth upon the first bite, Adam and Eve tasted the loss of their core certainty of being. Since then it has become natural for people to depend greatly on other people’s opinion rather than listening to their own inner voice. Teshuvah is about returning to our inner core – our inner source where we feel connected with the greater whole. Eating from the Tree caused division in the world. Our work in this world is to reconnect the dispersed pieces of our personal puzzle. This is redemption on a personal level. When we tune inwards in meditative living we become magnetic to the fragmented pieces of our soul. On a practical level this may imply taking time to be alone with ourselves and our souls, away from everyone else’s noisy clatter. A nature walk alone with the trees, herbs and bird-song may do wonders for reconnecting and centering ourselves. At these times it may be helpful to talk a little less with others while listening in and becoming more aware of who we really are and where we are headed.

Minimizing like the Moon
In our time of information overload, uncertainty and confusion, we often look to others to affirm selfhood. When our self-worth is dependent on what others think of us, rather than our Divine source within, then we are continuing and repeating the sin of eating from the Tree of External Knowledge while losing internal selfhood. This loss of self is reflected in the moon’s question: “How can two kings share one crown?” (Babylonian Talmud, Chulin 60b). The moon’s question is only a question in the external world of rank and competition where we compare ourselves to one another. In the internal world everything is possible, and when we fulfill our personal potential, we are all kings and heads rather than tails, as the Rosh Hashana Seder affirms. Eating from the Tree of Knowledge affected even the earth, which became afraid to actualize its full potential that Hashem had imbued within it to produce fruit trees that produced fruits, where the tree shared the taste of the fruit (Bereishit 1:11), rather than just bitter trees that produced sweet fruit (Bereishit 1:12). When we are concerned about what people think about us, then we lose the ability to go all the way and act with our full heart (Midrash Rabbah, Ruth 5:6). Through fear and concern of what people may say, we cause ourselves to be minimized like the moon.

Returning to the Root of Our Soul
The days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are focused on returning the lost light of the moon, and unifying at the inner point that precedes contrast and counter point – jealousy and competition, where two kings can share one crown. We recite the Avinu Malkeinu prayer, requesting: “Our Father our King! Return us in complete teshuvah before You!” When is teshuvah full and complete? This question can be better understood in light of the request that immediately follows: “Our Father our King! Send complete healing to the sick of Your people.” What is ‘complete healing?’ Often we are only able to alleviate the external symptoms. The true source of the illness, however, remains unknown or untreatable. Such a treatment is only a partial healing. When we plead for complete healing, we are praying that we may succeed in discovering the source of the illness, become completely cured in full restoration of perfect health. The same concept applies to teshuvah. If we address a particular fault, we are really dealing with a symptom of a much larger problem. Correcting a specific sin is only partial teshuvah. When we ask for G-d’s help in attaining complete teshuvah, we seek a comprehensive teshuvah that corrects the root source of our various character flaws resulting from estrangement of self. Such a complete teshuvah will restore our spiritual wholeness and return us to ourselves. As Rav Kook writes, “When we forget the nature of our ani ha’atzmi – our authentic soul, when we ignore the call to enter into the inner life of our self, everything gets hazy and full of doubt. The primary teshuvah which immediately illuminates the darkness is that a person returns to himself, to the root of his soul, and he will at once return to G-d – the soul of all souls. He will continue to step forwards in the higher levels of holiness and purity” (Orot HaTeshuvah 15:10).

Returning to Our Authentic Essential Selves
Dr. Yehudah Gelman explains how according to Rav Kook there exist two kinds of teshuvah. Most people focus on the lower teshuvah which is reflected in correct actions in the realm of Halacha. Rav Kook emphasizes the importance of the higher teshuvah reflected in correct mindset – in being connected with our higher selves. It is a state of being – a state of perception, in which everything is perceived in its unifying nature. The lower teshuvah is how we operate in the world, whereas the higher teshuvah is about connecting to our essence, to our highest soul – our yechidah – our all-inclusive individuality, unified with the universal Divinity. In order to come to our essential teshuvah (higher teshuvah), we may increase thoughts and meditation, thereby decreasing actions even in learning Torah. Yet, the Torah we learned will thereby be processed on a deeper level. By increasing the richness of our imagination, we may thereby decrease our active aspect of life. This is necessary essentially in order to purify our insides – in order to remain refined, purified and truly free. All this pertains to the higher teshuvah – the teshuvah of essential self (Orot HaTeshuvah 16:11).

The Pitfalls of Lower Teshuvah and Religious Snobbishness
One of the pitfalls of the lower teshuvah is that it creates division among us. It is about finding our place and keeping the boundaries strong, defending them against outsiders.

Lower teshuvah disconnected from higher teshuvah is completely defined by categorization. Therefore, it emphasizes those particulars which divide between the different segments of people. When we do lower teshuvah, we define ourselves through how we are different and ‘better’ than others. For example through eating more strictly kosher, only holding by certain hechshers, being more tzniut than others, covering our hair better, having longer peot, a bigger kipah etc. The negative consequences of this kind of lower teshuvah are expressed in kind of a religious snobbishness – being intolerant of those who wear a different kind of hat. When it comes to lower teshuvah, those mitzvot which don’t play a particular role in defining the different categories go by the way side, no matter how much value they may have. Those values which do not define of one group as opposed to another, lose their significance, since they are not important in determining where I belong, and where you belong. Therefore, there is for example no Jewish category that defines itself by not throwing paper down the floor, or being kind to animals. Those aren’t the defining characteristics. The great threat to the lower teshuvah is to lose our place, to return to the world of chaos, of confusion, of cross-categories, of not understanding that a Jew is a Jews and you are a Jew, a goy is a goy and you are not a goy. Lower teshuvah detached from higher teshuvah thus may express rigid social demarcation, and a rigid authoritarian structure, which represents its degeneration.

Higher Teshuvah: Rather than, “I Live,” “It Lives in Me”
To return in higher teshuvah is to expand the conception of self – recognizing in a certain sense the unboundedness of the self. It is to realize the openness of the self, that the self is not an enclosure by its very nature. It is not bounded, it is not some kind of cage which is lock must be checked and double checked before you go to bed at night. Upper teshuvah is like a flower which opens to the morning sun, opening to all reality, and realizing that oneness of my existence with the Divine. I, as a human being, am a unique intersection of Divine forces at a particular place and time of history of the world. To be in higher teshuvah is to experience our life as Divine energy flowing through us. We cannot say in higher teshuvah “I live,” but rather, “It lives in me.” Or we say, “I am lived.” When we are in higher teshuvah we feel that we are the ground upon which the Divine breaks out into reality and is revealed. Higher teshuvah is return to our root, to our true and deep self – to our true nature in the order of being. Higher teshuvah knows no strong dichotomies in essence between the physical and the spiritual, between the holy and the secular, between man and woman, Jew and gentile, even between human and animal. Therefore, higher teshuvah which is not anchored in lower teshuvah can be dangerous in its all-inclusive tolerance and lack of boundaries.

Golden Apples of Higher Teshuvah within Silver Settings of Lower Teshuvah

We must learn to operate in both realms simultaneously. Our head can soar in the highest heaven of the upper teshuvah as long as our feet are firmly planted in the ground of lower teshuvah. Even as we delight in higher teshuvah we must remember that we live in the physical world governed by the boundaries of Halacha. Although it may feel – oh so spiritual – to turn on music on Shabbat, or let down our hair from the constriction of its covering, with strong emunah we nevertheless do our best to keep all the Divine rules to their very detail. Even if the practical pragmatic distinctions to be made between holy and profane, spiritual and material, man and woman do not reveal the true nature of reality, they still need to be kept in this lower world, while serving as a springboard towards higher consciousness of the ultimate reality where they no longer will be relevant. As the geulah (redemption) draws closer there is an increased yearning for the higher realms beyond boundaries, and some of us, in our desire for spirituality and Divine connection, may forget to fit in the nitty gritty details of halacha which may seem so intolerant and limiting. Others build walls of protection around our sanctuary of righteousness, judging our fellow Jews by the height of their neckline and length of their sleeves. Through our shield of intolerance we may be missing out on welcoming uninitiated outsiders in true ahavat Yisrael (love of all Israel). The correct balance between upper and lower teshuvah can be compared to “apples of gold in filigree settings of silver” (Mishley 25:11). Within the silver settings of the lower teshuvah visible in the physical world shines the specks of golden apples from the realm of the higher teshuvah.

May we merit returning to Hashem, each-other and ourselves in teshuvah sheleima, which includes the correct balance between both higher and lower teshuvah!
גמר חתימה טובה
May we all be sealed in the book of life in both the upper and lower world!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Rosh Hashanah’s Physical Doorways into the Spiritual World

May this year we will be full of mitzvot as a pomegranate is full of seeds!
Welcoming the New Year in a Spiritual Spiral
As always I look forward to Rosh Hashanah, it’s my time of devotion for heartfelt prayer. I love the Rosh Hashanah davening in Bat Ayin. Several weeks into Tishrei I will find myself humming the uplifting heart opening melodies of the communal prayers. The sound of the shofar is like an open channel. Through it, we can connect and draw down the innermost, supernal realms, allowing their vibration to be heard in this world as the physical sound. I am in awe with the depths of the Shofar cry which pierces directly into my heart and I always meditate on flying to another dimension while the Shofar is blowing. I can almost feel the serenity of the spiritual world filled of light and dancing angels. One of the highlights for me is dinner at our home the first night of Rosh Hashanah. We welcome the New Year with a fruit and vegetable Seder and with recital and singing of many Torah verses with promises of blessings, light and goodness. We repeat the verses over and over until it makes us go into sort of a trance. Then it becomes time for Kiddush and the dipping of the fresh-baked challah into delicious flowing honey. Most people believe that we eat round challot to symbolize how the year repeats its yearly cycle throughout the holidays of each month. However, the Hebrew word for year שנה/shana means both to ‘repeat’ and to ‘change.’ Therefore, the Rosh Hashanah challot may actually be spiraled as a sign that we wish for the New Year to elevate us towards change and positive transformation. Each year we will climb higher and higher, creating a spiritual spiral. The shape of the Rosh Hashanah challah reminds us to engage in the creative spiritual process which lifts us out of the repetitive cycle, and directs our energies toward a higher end.

I bless all of us to be inscribed and sealed in the Book of Life, that our upcoming year should be not only good but that it will be b”H be the Sweetest of Sweets!
Shana Tovah U’Metukah!
May you be inscribed in the Book of Life!
שנה טובה תכתבו ותחתמו לחיים טובים ושלום

Rebbetzin Chana Bracha

A Sign has Reality
Rosh Hashanah is a holiday filled with physical doorways into the spiritual world. The traditional signs ‘simanim’ we perform on Rosh Hashana offer the opportunity for spiritual elevation. Conducting a traditional Rosh Hashanah Seder is an amazing gateway for drawing down within ourselves and our world, the blessed influence from above. In addition to eating apples dipped in honey, we prepare several foods and recite a prayer that contains an allusion to the food’s Hebrew name. Shulchan Aruch mentions the custom to eat several different foods and recite a certain prayer over each food (Orach Chayim 583). This ritual has a very deep significance. As Chazal says, היא סימנין מילתא/simanin milta hee – “A sign has reality” (Babylonian Talmud, Bechorot 6a). The matter is that the eating is a siman tov (sign for good) just as the names of the foods. At the time of Creation words of Torah were the center of the world. Therefore, eating, the maintenance of life, was connected with ingesting words of Torah. The reason all this changed was that the eating from the Tree of Knowledge Good and Evil caused all the good in the world to become mixed with evil. However, when Rosh Hashanah arrives – the day of the beginning of the world – it is possible to return back to the original purpose of Creation and the reality before eating from the Tree by receiving a taste of only the good. The Hebrew names of everything in reality teach us about the root of its life force. When we eat something, which is called a head, the root of its life force shows that we will become the head. Abaye stated: “Now that you have concluded that a sign has reality and can affect the future, let everyone be accustomed to eat on Rosh Hashanah: gourd, beans, leek and beets” (Babylonian Talmud, Horayot 12a). Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach explains that we give signs to one another and Hashem in order to recall the signs that Rachel gave to Leah. With these ‘simanim’ (signs) they became elevated to the realm before Creation when there were no words – only signs. Our relationship with one another on Rosh Hashana is also like before the Creation of the world – Just ‘simanim.’ Words can kill, but simanim are always holy. All the signs we give Hashem tell how much we want to be a better person and Jew. The signs we give to one another tell how much we love each other and want each other to live. When Mashiach arrives we will all stream to Yerushalayim to the sound of the Shofar. Mashiach will not give long speeches, but the world will understand from the ‘siman’ of the shofar’s sound that Mashiach has arrived.

Becoming the Head and not the Tail by Fulfilling our Potential
During the Rosh Hashana Seder it is a custom to eat the head of an animal and ask “That we may be the head and not the tail.” This request is connected with the last bracha which was said in Mount Grizim.
 …וּנְתָנְךָ הָשֶׁם לְרֹאשׁ וְלֹא לְזָנָב וְהָיִיתָ רַק לְמַעְלָה וְלֹא תִהְיֶה לְמָטָּה
“Hashem shall make you the head and not the tail and you shall be above only, and you shall not be beneath, if you listen to the commandments of Hashem your G-d which I command you this day to observe and to do them” (Devarim 28:13).

How is it possible that we all become the head, isn’t it natural that some people are on higher ranks than others? We’re asking that all Israel shall become heads and not tails each one according to his level and potential. This is what it says in Midrash Tanchuma Nitzavim: “Although you have appointed for yourselves heads, you are all equal before Me.” The explanation of this is that every Jewish person corresponds to a letter or a part of a letter in the Torah. If any part of a letter is missing then the whole Sefer Torah is pasul (worthless). Therefore, when we fulfill our potential to its fullest we really become all heads all equally important in the eyes of G-d. In the world to come there will not be a division of levels and ranks of importance, as it says: “In the future H’ will make a dance (in a circle) of Tzadikkim...” (Babylonian Talmud, Ta’anit 31) Every point in a circle is equidistant from the center, there is no difference in level.

Why Sweeter than Good?
On Rosh Hashana it is a custom to dip an apple in honey and say the following prayer:
יהי רצון לפניך שתתחדש עלינו שנה טובה ומתוקה /Yehi ratzon lefanacha sh’titchadesh aleinu shana tovah u’metukah – “May it be your will to renew for us a good and sweet year.” Why do we request both a good and sweet year. What is the difference between good and sweet? אוֹר זָרֻעַ לַצַּדִּיק וּלְיִשְׁרֵי לֵב שִׂמְחָה
“Light is sown for the tzaddik (righteous), but happiness for the upright in heart” (Tehillim 97:11). There are two kind of righteous people a tzaddik (righteous) and a yashar (upright). The tzaddik walks in the way of the Torah and keeps Hashem’s mitzvot without feeling the taste and sweetness of being happy about serving Hashem. However, a yashar not only walks in the ways of Torah, he moreover feels the taste and sweetness of his worship to the extent that he becomes filled with simcha (happiness) with each mitzvah he is able to perform. When we pray for a sweet year we don’t just ask for a fun filled year where we’re having fun at the movies, going out with our friends etc. What we’re really asking for is that living a Torah life, shiurim, tefilah, Shabbat, chesed etc. should not just remain exterior acts which we do out of obedience. Rather, we pray that we will be able to feel the taste (meaning) of the mitzvot to become so sweet that we fulfill them with a complete heart – filled with simcha – happiness. Another way of understanding the difference between good and sweet is that everything that Hashem does is good as Nachum Ish Gam Zu taught us (Babylonian Talmud, Ta’anit 21:1). Yet, much of all that goodness is hidden goodness. It may be good but nevertheless it feels bitter; like a bitter medicine that heals but is hard to swallow. When we pray for a sweet year we pray that we will merit experiencing all the goodness that Hashem has in store for us as complete revealed good. That we won’t need any bitter lessons of healing, but that our year will be blessed to the extent that it’s not only objectively good, it will also feel subjectively good to each one of us. The Hebrew word for sweet מתוקה/metukah derives from the word מתוקן/metukan – rectified. When we rise to a realm of expanded consciousness revealing the root of our existence, even harsh judgments become sweetened. This is when we not only accept our destiny but actually embrace it. This is the greatest rectification!

The Apple – Representing the Tree of Life
Why do we dip an apple in honey instead of any other fruit? We eat apples on Rosh Hashana, as the apple is distinguished in taste, appearance and fragrance. The apples are a sign of children, life and sustenance throughout the New Year (Ben Ish Chai). Chazal teaches us that Israel is compared to an apple. Just as the blossoming of the apple tree precedes the formation of leaves, so the Jewish people agreed to perform the Torah’s commandments even before hearing them. When we willingly accepted the Torah by proclaiming נעשה /na’aseh – we will do, prior to ונשמע/v’nishma – and we will hear and understand (Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 88a). The first step נעשה /na’aseh – we will do entails performing the good act – (Torah & Mitzvot) obediently without feeling the taste (meaning) of the mitzvot. However, the next step ונשמע/v’nishma – we will hear is the feeling of the taste of the words of Torah through the understanding of their meaning. The apple alludes to the good deeds which we hope to be able to do in the following year this is the meaning of the word tovah. The honey alludes to the sweetness and understanding of the good deeds, which we pray to be able to experience in the following year this is the meaning of metukah.

טובה/tovah – good
נעשה /na’aseh – we will do
צדיק/Tzaddik – Righteous
אור/Ohr – Light

ומתוקה/u’metukah – sweet
ונשמע/v’nishma – and we will hear
ישר/Yashar – Upright
שמחה/Simcha – Happiness 

Just as the apple heals all, so the Holy One heals all. Just as the apple has various colors (white, red, green) so the Holy One has various supernal colors (white, red and green corresponding to the attributes of chesed, gevurah and tiferet (Zohar Acharei Mot). Most people who are not learned in the Torah think that the Tree of Knowledge was an apple. Little do they know that the apple is actually the exact opposite it is the Tree of Life. The Tree of Life refers to Hashem Who is called “the apple tree.” (Pri Zaddik, Parashat Shelach 52). Rosh Hashanah celebrates the birthday of the first human being who ate from the Tree of Knowledge the very first day of his creation, and brought down death and mortality to the world. On Rosh Hashanah we return to the beginning of Creation where we have the opportunity to rectify the misdeed of the eating from the Tree of Knowledge through eating from its anti-dote – the apple which represents the Tree of Life. This is our non-verbal eating prayer ritual that will b”H inscribe us in the Book of Life.

Rosh Hashana Blessings

On Rosh Hashanah it’s a custom to bless one another. As Rav Shlomo teaches, when we bless on Rosh Hashanah evening we are telling our friend: “If I merit to be written above in the book of life, I am saying before Hashem that I want it to be together with you, only together with you! The world that I want to live in is the world that we are all alive and happening. My being written in the book of life includes those I bless, we are together mamash!” The very deepest moment on Rosh Hashanah is when we bless each other. I wish to bless you on Rosh Hashanah itself with so much life flowing over into an abundance of vessels that you will create with your kindness of spirit and action. I bless all of us to be inscribed and sealed in the Book of Life, that our upcoming year should be not only good but that it will be b”H be the Sweetest of Sweets!

May we all fulfill our potential to become the head and not the tail!

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Final Spiritual Tune-Up as the Year Closes

Editing the Video of our Life
Rebbetzin at the Tomb of our Patriarchs, Hevron
The dear month of Elul which Hashem granted us to come close to Him in preparation for the High Holidays is coming towards an end. It seems like this month is too short. There is so much we need to accomplice to better ourselves and give ourselves a final tune-up. Last Shabbat during my birthday farbrengen (get-together) I shared words of Torah from the Netivot Shalom, who explained that the main character trait of the month of Elul is יראה/yirah – awe. This is one of the reasons why we blow the shofar during the month of Elul – and no that is not only a sefardi custom, as some of the women thought. The Netivot Shalom quotes the prophet: “Shall the Shofar be blown in a city, and the people not tremble? (Amos 3:6). I read about the mitzvah of erecting a fence on the roof of a new house, which alludes the opportunity to build ourselves a new completely before the New Year. The fence corresponds to awe of G-d and the numerical value of fence מעקה/ma’akeh counting one for the word itself equals the word for fear or rather awe – יראה/yirah (216). Through developing awe of G-d during the month of Elul, we prepare ourselves to crown Hashem the King over each and every limb in our body on Rosh Hashana. One of the women commented that she was so grateful for this opportunity to learn about the month of Elul, as it flies by so fast, and often the opportunities it offers are lost, as the High Holidays hit upon us suddenly. Without us being properly prepared we may feel as if we missed the boat. So what is Yirat Hashem? Awe of G-d and how do we develop it asked another of the women? I opened the “floor” for everyone to share and different women shared their insights. יראה/yirah consist of the same Hebrew letters as the word ראיה/re’iyah – to see. Developing awe of G-d is about visualizing G-d before us always, in whatever we do. “The eye sees, and the ear hears, and all your deeds are written in the book” (Pirkei Avot 2:1). By way of extending these words of chazal, an even stronger imagery is visualizing how all our actions are recorded in a video. When we come to the world of truth – until 120 – we will watch two videos, the one recorded of our life in action, and the other video is how our life could have been, recording our unfulfilled potential. The pain of purgatory in the afterlife is the pain of experiencing the gap between these two videos (Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, If You Were G-d). We need to work on building our awe of G-d during the month of Elul as this is the foundation and beginning of our subsequent teshuvah, both during Elul and the High Holidays. Through this teshuvah b”H we can edit the video of our life and make it more congruent with the video of our potential.

Don’t Miss the Boat of Teshuvah: Practical Steps of Confession

I identify with the words of Rav Kook, “at the time before the beginning of the year, the attribute of teshuvah awakens within us. This is the clear recognition that Israel is a holy nation. We begin the New Year only after we have completed the previous year with חשבון הנפש/chesbon haNefesh – soul accounting during the month of Elul and the days of shelichot (Moadei HaRe’eya, p. 58, bottom). Now is the time for shelichot – asking Hashem for forgiveness for every way we have been short in fulfilling our potential in serving him. I personally have a hard time with going to organized communal shelichot, which are always very late at night or very early in the morning. Even if women are exempt from synagogue prayer, those who are able to attend surely merit and receive reward (see Babylonian Talmud Sotah 22a). Women, like me or those whose family situation doesn’t allow for them to leave their home, may still take advantage of the month of Elul for our personal shelichot. Rambam writes that the first step in teshuvah, for any kind of sins including unintentional, is to confess before Hashem as it states in the Torah, “Speak to the children of Israel: If a man or woman commit any sin that people commit against Hashem… they must confess the sin that they committed… (Bamidbar 5:6-7). Verbal confessing is thus a positive mitzvah from the Torah. The way to do it explains the Rambam, is simply to say “Please Hashem I unintentionally sinned, I transgressed, I committed iniquity before You by doing the following [here we insert the specific transgression…] I regret and am embarrassed about my actions, I promise never to repeat this act again." These are the essential elements of the confessional prayer. Whoever confesses profusely and elaborates on these matters is worthy of praise (Rambam, HaYad HaChazakah, Laws of Teshuvah 1:1). By these words I inspired myself to write myself a list of confessions from various actions from which I want to repent.

Does a Written Confession Count?

Since I spend most of my day at the computer, it is natural for me to also make my confession through the computer. Yet, I felt somehow that this was not enough. I was wondering what the halacha says regarding confession, can we confess in writing or must it be orally? When asking my husband where there is a source that confession must be done orally, he answered to look in the Rambam, the laws of Repentance. I glanced through all of the ten chapters of the Laws of Repentance but didn’t find a definite answer to my question. Rambam mentions “verbal confession,” in Hebrew וידוי דברים/vidui devarim – but also a written confession is verbal. Finally I found the Sefer Chinuch which is clear that confession has to be orally through the mouth. Confessing orally by pronouncing our transgression with our mouth will help us to integrate our repentance and protect us from repeating the transgression. “The root of the mitzvah is that by means of confessing the sin through the mouth, the person who sinned reveals that he in truth believes that all his deeds are revealed before Hashem. Mentioning the particular sin and regretting committing it helps him become more careful to avoid this transgression next time even inadvertently. After having expressed with his mouth, “I did the following… I acted foolishly,” he will be protected from repeating this act (Sefer HaChinuch, Mitzvah 364). It seems to me that repentance must be with our entire being: thought, speech and action. Therefore, written confession as has been the custom in other religious bypass the realm of speech, going directly from the realm of thought to that of action. For a full teshuvah we need each of the three following steps: Regret – the realm of thought, Confession – realm of speech, Mending our way – the realm of action.

Building Vessels for the Lights of Elul
Yirah – awe helps us build vessels for all the lights available during the month of Elul. Through developing our awe of G-d we will become more careful in keeping the minutia of the mitzvot correctly. Working on paying more attention to detail in action builds our vessels to hold our light of wisdom and spirituality. Each of the months of the year is associated with a specific permutation of Hashem’s four lettered name, the permutation of Elul is Heh/Heh/Vav/Yud. In this permutation the two letters of heh precede the vav and the yud. The letters heh are the vessels, for the Divine lights of yud and vav coming down into the world. Rav Shlomo Carlebach teaches that so much light is coming down into the world, and it just gets lost because we have no vessels for it. What’s the greatest joy in the world? When we make vessels for G-d’s light, and not one ounce of it is getting lost. Sometimes you love a person so much you open your heart like two million miles, and they come with a one-inch vessel. It’s the most painful thing. I want to pick up G-d’s light the way it’s in heaven. The first heh is a vessel for the yud, and the second heh for the vav. The lower heh is the way G-d’s light comes down into the world. The higher heh is I don’t want G-d’s light to even come into the world and then pick it up I want something so heavenly. The greatest simcha is when first there’s the vessel and then the light is coming. Chodesh Elul is first the two hehs. I’m longing – give me a taste of heaven. Master of the World, make me a vessel, until the vav – the way the light comes down unto the world. Hashem, give me a taste of both, and eventually mamash of yud – which is the smallest light but it’s the highest light in the world. The tekiah (blowing) of the shofar is the greatest longing in the world. The two hehs – I am crying. When children cry they don’t know why they are crying. They are just crying. You know why children touch our heart so deep, because they don’t say anything. They are just crying.

In the End of the Year in Elul We Will All Come Around
So in Elul its ok to cry, cry for all the unfulfilled love and potential. Cry for the yearning for something deeper, holier, higher than this world of pain and temptation. I came across a very comforting Torah of the B’nei Yissaschar. “You shall therefore keep the commandment, and the statutes, and the laws, which I command you this day, to do them” (Devarim 7:11). This implies that we must not procrastinate but keep the mitzvah at our earliest opportunity, “today” rather than tomorrow. The following verse reads, “It shall come to pass, because (ekev) you listen to these laws, and keep, and do them… (Devarim 7:12). The word עקב/ekev means both ‘because’ and ‘heel.’ This implies that even if you push off the mitzvah rather than doing it right away “today,” in the end, at the ‘heel of time’ it will come to pass that you will listen.” At the end of the year, during the month of Elul we will learn to listen; for there is no Jewish person who does not awaken spiritually to think thoughts of repentance during these times. This is why our Torah verse reads והיה/v’haya – “It shall come to pass” in the past form with the conversive vav which turns past into future. Whenever the Torah writes this form it denotes happiness (Ohr HaChayim Devarim 21:1). There is no greater happiness than receiving a spiritual tune-up as we become aroused to repentance during the month of Elul. When we experience this Spiritual Awakening from Heaven, all we need to do is to hold on to this arousal without letting go, then even just at the heel – in the end we will learn to listen. Then we will experience the greatest happiness when the continuation of the Torah verse will be fulfilled: “…Hashem your G-d will keep the covenant and the kindness that He swore to your forefathers (Devarim 7:12), (B’nei Yissaschar, the Month of Elul, 1:20).

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Elul: The King is in the Energy Field

Have You said Hello to the King?
Most of us have heard that during Elul the King is in the field. Yet, what does that really mean and what does it demand of me? If the King is in the field must I stop my work, clean my fingernails and change into my Shabbat dress to greet Him? Rabbi Sheur Zalman of Liadi, the founder of Chabad compares the Divine revelation during the month of Elul to a king that leaves His inner chambers of his royal palace and descends down into the field, to the lowest place. When the King is in his castle only special selected people merit to enter the King’s chamber. However, when the King exits the capital and goes to the field, towards the people, anyone can come meet Him and speak with Him. The King receives each one of us with love. All can approach Him. He shines His countenance to all (Likkutei Torah, Re’eh 32b). How does it affect me that the King in the field and no longer sits on his royal throne surrounded by his ministers and servants? This implies that if we’re interested, each one of us is free to receive the King’s face. There is only one thing that we need to do, that is to – that is to go out towards the King. To even notice that the King is in the field with us in the first place so we can take advantage of this special time, when the King is so very close for all – to approach Him.

I’d like to share a poem I wrote several years ago inspired by the atmosphere of the month of Elul describing how we can feel the King in the Field:

The King is in the Field
In the sweetness of the fig fresh from the tree
In the shade of the apple tree where I love to be
In the green plant-leaves of many shapes
In the juicy purple of the hidden grapes

The King is in the Field
In the black rich smelling organic soil
In the effort of the hoes during daily toil
In the dry thorns so easily hacked away
In the golden light draping the end of day

The King is in the Field
In the faint Shofar calling from afar
In the terrible news of impending war
In the gentle tug urging my heart to give
Reach out and pray that we all may live

Meeting the King in our Field of Work
We would think that the month of Elul, with its extraordinary opportunity to come face to face with the King and when the thirteen principles of mercy shine just as on Yom Kippur, would receive a special holiday status at least as a chol hamoed (half-holiday like the intermediate days of Pesach and Sukkot). The Admor Ha’Zakein explains that on Yom Kippur Hashem reveals Himself to us after we have prepared ourselves through prayer, fasting, repentance and good deeds, whereas during Elul Hashem reveals Himself in our current state, the way we are holding during a regular everyday weekday. Even within this state Hashem enables us to come close to Him. Everyone works in the field – be it the wheat field or cornfield, or the field of banking, steelmaking, medicine or politics. ‘The field’ represents the entire spectrum of our workday endeavors.

The Meeting Place for Holiness of Time and Space
The metaphor of the King being in the field also emphasizes the importance of work (action) – the ‘sense’ of the month of Elul. In the field, one works. The works connected with making bread are done in the field. Interestingly, these very works and all other works connected with creating a sanctuary for Hashem (The Mishkan) are specifically those prohibited on Shabbat. These are the very works that create holiness of space. Although, in reality, even the mundane realm is holy, as its purpose is to create a dwelling place for G-d in the lower world, nevertheless, during Shabbat and holidays, the dimension of holiness of time supersedes the holiness of space. The reason for this is that when we’re in the midst of our everyday pursuits we may be carried away by the mundane material reality in which we operate. We may forget that whatever physical work we do, it’s all about creating a sanctuary for Hashem. Throughout the year we need Shabbat and the holidays to remind us about our holy pursuit even during our mundane workweek. In this way the lights of Shabbat and the holidays also shine into our daily day and illuminate it. During the month of Elul when the King comes to the field, the holiness of time and space unite. The true essential underlying holiness within even this physical world becomes that much more accessible during the month of Elul. When the King visits us in our mundane work field, the material trappings of life no longer conceal and distort its purpose. In contrast to Shabbat and holy days, when we are elevated above and beyond our workday lives, the encounter of Elul is hosted by our physical selves, within our material environment, on our workingman’s terms. Only during the month of Elul we can greet the King in our work clothes with our dirty fingernails! (Based on Rabbi, Menachem Mendel Shneerson, Sefer HaSichot 5750, vol. II, pp. 642-648 Elul 4, 5750 (August 25, 1990). Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe by Yanki Tauber .

Opening the Gate of Righteousness and the Door of Return
According to Arizal when you spell out each of the letters of the name א-ד-נ-י /adni you get 12 letters one for each of the months of the year. The first letter alef is spelled out אלף/alef, lamed, peh. The first month Nissan receives the alef, lamed for Iyar and peh for Sivan. The second letter דלת/dalet, lamed, taf connects to the following three months: Tamuz receives dalet, Av, lamed and Elul taf. The two letters for the months of Tamuz and Av spell together דל/dal – poor. During our bitter exile, these months are poor while lacking in holidays they include only days of fasting and mourning. However, when you join the month of Elul to the month of Tamuz and Av, the word דל/dal – poor turns into the word דלת/delet – door. During Elul the door is open to those who return to Hashem in teshuvah. This is why the days of Elul are days of goodwill even within our poverty as it states, “I will extol You, Hashem, for דליתני /dalitani – you have raised me up, and not allowed my enemies to rejoice over me” (Tehillim 30:2). The word for “raised me up” דליתני /dalitani is connected with the word for ‘door’ – דלת/delet. During Elul we thank Hashem for opening the door from the poverty of the oppression of our enemies. This verse furthermore alludes to the fact that when the months of the year were divided between Ya’acov and Esav, Tamuz, Av and Elul fell into the portion of Esav. This made him very happy as he thereby thought to block the way of teshuvah for Ya’acov and his descendants. Ya’acov worked hard to extrapolate the month of Elul from Esav’s grip. When he finally succeeded to open the month of Elul for teshuvah he rejoiced with this verse on his lips (B’nei Yissaschar, Article for Tamuz and Av 1:6). The letter ת/taf is a feminine letter connected with actions in the lower world. When this letter completes the word דלת/delet – door, it is associated with tzedakka and good deeds of welcoming guests as it states, “The stranger did not lodge in the street; I opened the doors to the guest” (Iyov 31:32).

The sense of Tamuz is ראיה/re’eya – seeing, and of Av is שמיעה-she’miah – hearing. Together these two words make up the acronym of רש/rash – destitute. During Shelichot prayers we say: “ כְּדַלִּים וּכְרָשִׁים דָּפַקְנוּ דְלָתֶיךָ – k’dalim u’k’rashim dafaknu d’lateicha – like poor and destitute we knocked on Your doors.” We emerge from the poor and destitute months of Tamuz and Av, and enter the door of Elul with utmost humility. Here something really neat happens, if we add the first letter of the ‘sense’ of the month of Elul, עשיה/asiyah – action to the acronym of the senses of Tamuz and Av רש/rash – destitute, we get the word שער/sha’ar – gate (B’nei Yissaschar, Article for the Month of Elul 1:8). May Hashem open the gate of righteousness for us during this month of Elul!

The King is in the Energy Field
As a spiritual energy healer, it strikes me whenever we say, “The King is in the Field,” that is must refer to the energy field that surrounds us all. These energy fields are another name for our seven surrounding auras. (Note the word ‘aura’ emanates from the Hebrew word ‘אוֹר/Ohr – light). Each aura corresponds to one of the lower sefirot. The last aura that surrounds the other six auras corresponds to the highest sefira of Keter. It is interestingly enough called the The Ketheric Template Layer or Causal Layer which is the link to Hashem, connecting us to all knowledge. This layer protects and holds all other aura layers together, and contains the blueprint of our spiritual path, reflecting all of the soul’s experiences and events throughout time. During the month of Elul our personal energy field – our higher spiritual selves – gets a special illumination. This means that we have a unique ability to connect with our spiritual goals during the month of Elul, and align ourselves with our higher selves. In addition, it implies that the month of Elul is a special מסוגל/mesugal – exceptional time suitable for spiritual healing. During this month when the King is in our Energy Field and we are aligned with our soul, we have a special gift for tuning in to our spiritual intuition and get true answers from within. Our soul always knows the deepest truth. It’s just that it is often blocked by fears, and other negative emotions. During Elul, when the King is in the Energy Field, we have the special opportunity to release emotional and spiritual blocks in order to access the depth of our neshamah (soul), the part within us intrinsically linked to Hashem. In Elul both the gate and door is wide open. Let us take advantage of this exceptional time to heal ourselves and our loved ones during the auspicious month of Elul.