Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The Donkey Vision

Nature in the Parasha - Parashat Balak
Purim at B'erot!
I often get the feeling that animals perceive things of which we people are unaware. All of a sudden, my chickens will make strange sounds without any apparent reason. The dogs will bark and the donkeys bray. The U.S. Geological Survey verifies that there have been documented cases of unusual animal behavior prior to earthquakes. There are many stories about animals saving people from disaster. For example, the cries of the family cat, Oreo, coming from the garage woke up Dianne at 4:45 a.m. one morning. When she went downstairs to see what the fuss was about, she discovered her house was on fire. She quickly grabbed the cat and rushed back inside to wake up her husband and their five children. Although the fire destroyed the garage and a bedroom, none of the family was harmed thanks to the cat’s cries. The family had not been too fond of the cat before this incident; however, Dianne’s husband Jesse stated, “We love it now. It is getting some tuna tonight!” Another moving story about animals saving people took place in Texas, in 1982. A two-year-old child had been walking with his grandmother when Arf, the family dog, became so agitated that the grandmother thought it best to take the child inside. Mrs. Sparks, the child’s mother, came out to find Arf in a fight with a 24 inch north-American coral snake, she shot the snake, but Arf had a lot of bites and scratches and was admitted into a veterinary hospital for 24 days. (http://listverse.com/2010/03/14/top-10-cases-of-animals-saving-humans/).

Animals are very sensitive in a different way than people. Psychic gifts have long been are associated with the dog because of its ability to detect subtle energy frequencies often unknown to mankind (http://www.manataka.org/page236.html). Animals also have a sense of direction unmatched by humans. My neighbor’s cat was brought to a new home in Jerusalem. A week later it appeared at their doorstep in Bat Ayin – approximately a 30 km distance from Jerusalem (about 18 miles). Perhaps, with a cat as a guide, I too would be able to find my way around! I was wondering why Hashem grants these abilities to animals, and why Hashem allowed the female donkey in this week’s parasha to see an angel that most human beings are unable to see.

The Story of Bilam, his Donkey and the Angel Blocking the Way
In this week’s Parasha, Bilam saddles his donkey to go with the Moabite dignitaries, with the intention of cursing the Jews. He doesn’t care about acting contrary to G-d’s prior explicit instruction not to go with them to curse Israel. “G-d said to Bilam, don’t go with them and do not curse the people because they are blessed” (Bamidbar 22:12). On the road, Bilam’s donkey sees an angel of G-d with a drawn sword, standing in front of them. The donkey turns sharply to avoid the deathly angel, until Bilam hits her to turn her back onto the road. Two more times the donkey sees the angel in front of them with its sword drawn, and stops to avoid death. Two more times Bilam beats her. Finally, G-d opens the donkey’s mouth, and she berates Bilam for hitting her. “What have I done to you that you have beaten me these three times?!” “You have made a mockery of me! If I had a sword with me, I’d kill you!” Bilam retorts angrily. The donkey points out that she has always served Bilam well, and asks, “Have I not been a good and faithful donkey to you all these years?” “Indeed you have,” Bilam admits. Then G-d opens Bilam’s eyes to reveal the dangerous angel to him. G-d tells Bilam that he sent the angel to “come out as an adversary, since cursing the Jews is obnoxious to me.” “If you still disapprove, I will turn back.” Bilam offers. Yet the angel of Hashem tells Bilam, “Go with the men. But you must say nothing except what I tell you” (Based on Bamidbar 22: 23-35).

Pagan Attempt to Outsmart G-d
It seems like G-d keeps changing His mind back and forth while relating to Bilam. First G-d tells Bilam not to go with the Moabite dignitaries (Bamidbar 22:12), yet soon after He allows him to go (Bamidbar 22:20). Why is G-d then angry with Bilam for going, after He has just granted him permission? (Bamidbar 22:22). Why does He send the angel to tell Bilam that he is displeased with him for going on the way against the will of G-d? (Bamidbar 22:32), when soon after He reinstates His permission for Bilam to go with the men? (Bamidbar 22:35). Understanding about Bilam’s pagan worldview makes all the strange incidents in the story fall into place. In contrast to the Jewish faith that views G-d as all-powerful Master of the Universe, the pagans believe that G-d is not completely in control. For them G-d is only one out of many gods, none of which are completely in control. They can be influenced by fate, magic, manipulation, and proper timing etc. Bilam believed that G-d could be beaten. He thought that with enough cleverness, it would be possible to outsmart G-d. In all probability, Bilam thought to himself that G-d’s weakness made Him contradict Himself due to Bilam’s magic powers. He believed he would find a tactic to get away with cursing the Israelites against the will of G-d. Bilam didn’t understand that the reason why G-d seemingly contradicted Himself is according to the principle, “A person is being lead the way that he wants to go,” (Rashi, Bamidbar 22:35). G-d told Bilam not to go, while allowing him the free will to make his own decision. Bilam misunderstood this and believed that he somehow had fooled G-d into thinking he will not curse the Jews.

To Go or Not to Go Against the Way of G-d
At this point Hashem allows Bilam’s donkey to see an angel with a deadly sword blocking the way, while Bilam remains in the dark. Why does G-d grant a greater vision to the donkey than to Bilam? Donkeys are known to be rather dull, so the fact that the donkey was able to see more than Bilam was supposed to teach the following lesson: “You think you can outsmart G-d? You are not even as smart as your donkey!” From this, Bilam should have learned that he had not beaten G-d, but rather G-d had granted him the free will to choose his way. Yet, Bilam continued to fight G-d, thinking that he still had a chance to win over Him. In his stubbornness he neglected to get the point that, “One is allowed to follow the road he wishes to pursue, as it is written, “G‑d said to Bilam, ‘You shall not go with them,’” and then it is written, “If the men came to call you, rise up and go with them” (Babylonian Talmud, Makkot 10b). Bilam had the free choice of listening to G‑d or not. He could be grateful for his donkey, or repay the benefits he had received from her with evil – by beating her. The essence of humanity is Free Will. This is an expression of being created in “image of G‑d.” Hashem teaches us how to live according to His will and thereby walk in the path of righteousness. Yet, at every juncture, we are still free to “go off the derech” (path). This freedom gives us the ability to earn our righteousness through our own efforts by choosing life. When we sin, it is not because we have “defeated” G-d, but rather because the Almighty allows us to choose evil. To believe that we may contest the will of G-d is so foolish, that that even a donkey knows better. (https://thinkjudaism.wordpress.com/2012/07/08/balaams-talking-donkey-what-did-we-just-read-14/).

G-d Grants Greater Vision to Beasts than to Humans
To ensure humanity’s ability of freedom of choice, it is necessary for the human eye to be covered with darkness hiding the inner light of this world. We may choose between remaining in the dark or exert ourselves to discover the light beneath the veil of darkness. Therefore, this world is called –עוֹלָם/olam – hidden, as mostly true visions of the Divine reality are hidden from us. Only occasionally do we get a glimpse of spiritual reality, like at the revelation on Sinai. These rare glimpses of truth, that we may experience, help stir us in the right direction. Yet, freedom of choice can only exist when true perception of the Creator and the creation is withhold from us. Being able to clearly see the underlying spiritual reality of this world would undermine our Free Will, as the obvious truth of the Torah way would be too evident. In order to overcome this concealment we must actively seek truth and apply the greatest effort of our intellect, heart and soul to attain it. However, donkeys and other animals do not have Free Will. Therefore, there is no reason to withhold true perception of the spiritual reality from them. This explains Rashi’s statement that “The she-donkey saw, but [Bilam] did not see, for G‑d permitted a beast to perceive more than a man. Since [man] possesses intelligence, he would become insane if he saw the threatening angel” (Rashi, Bamidbar 22:23). If we saw the process of creation and the Divine Presence everywhere, if we saw the flow of energy from the Infinite Source into everything, bringing it into being at every moment, it would force us to accept the reality of the G‑dly presence, thereby eliminating our freedom of choice. Bilam’s donkey was not overwhelmed by the vision of the underlying spiritual forces, because it is unaffected by their cognitive implications. This is why an animal without a free will can see vast realities withheld from humanity. We humans are given discernment to pierce the veil of unawareness cast over humanity, if we so choose. To allow us the freedom of choice, this veil must remain locked in place until we open it by using the keys we are given. (Rabbi Shlomo Yaffe http://www.chabad.org/parshah/article_cdo/aid/699480/jewish/Of-Donkeys-and-Discernment.htm)

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The Perfect Mother Cow

Nature in the Parasha - Parashat Chukat
Holy Cow
Possible Red Heifer in New Jersey
In Israel or at least in Gush Etzion we don’t pass by many cows. From my bedroom window, I often hear the braying of donkeys and the bleating of goats and sheep, but never any mooing of cows. This is not because Israel doesn’t raise cows. In the Galilee and other places in the north where the grass is greener there are several cow-raising kibbutzim. Still, due to a lack of grass and high production of shrubs about two-thirds of Israeli beef consumption has been imported frozen until 1996. Today nearly half of Israel’s beef supply is now fresh beef from local producers. In fact, you can buy organic grass fed cow meat here in Bat Ayin. A young family from Bat Ayin Bet buy the cows from friends who live in the Itamar Yishuv, in Shomron. The husband who is a certified ritual slaughterer butchers the cow, whereas the wife delivers the chosen cut to our home. Still, cows are not the main livestock in Israel. Perhaps this is because they are heavy, kind of coarse and associated with the material.

Netivot Shalom explains in the name of the Chida that the Red Heifer alludes to the most physical part of a person. This is the part of ourselves that could bring us to immorality. The cow corresponds to physicality, and the red color corresponds to additional, extra physicality. This is why it states, “He must burn the cow” (Bamidbar 19:5). We need to burn away our unholy physical desires. As long as we are sunken into physicality, we are unworthy of seeing the greatness of our Creator. We also lose the ability to recognize the great value of a holy Jew (Netivot Shalom, Parashat Chukat, p. 115). The association between cows and the physical is what brought Ya’acov and Moshe to compare Yosef to the ox (Bereishit 49:6, 22), (Devarim 33:17). Yosef was involved in the physical realm, in the distribution of grain and running the kingdom of Egypt. The Golden Calf was actually produced through casting a plate, whereupon was written, “Rise ox, rise ox” into the melting pot. This was the same plate that brought Yosef’s coffin out of the Nile (Rashi, Shemot 32:4). Judaism, does not negate the physical, we work on elevating it as Yosef did, using the physical for the sake of the spiritual. We live in this world in a physical body that can become a holy vehicle for our soul. However, a body without a soul can no longer serve the spiritual. Therefore, it becomes טָמֵא/tamee – impure. Like in homeopathic medicine, the Torah teaches that “like cures like.” An example of that we see later in this week’s parasha when the Israelites were healed from their snakebites by starring at the copper serpent (Bamidbar 21:8). Perhaps this is why a cow is used for purification from the impurity of death. That which is most physical (body without soul) is rectified by and animal associated with the physical.

Let the Mother Clean the Mess of her Child
I often give a childless wife the blessing that her home will be a mess. After thinking about it for a second, she usually answers amen to cleaning up her forthcoming children’s mess. Similarly, the Red Heifer came to clean up the muck of the Golden Calf. “To what can this be likened? To a maid who worked in the palace of the king. One day her child came and soiled the palace with his filth. The king said, “Let his mother come, and clean her child’s filth.” Likewise, the Holy One said, “Let the Red Heifer come, and atone for the Golden Calf” (Midrash Rabbah, Bamidbar 19:8). Rashi quoting the midrash of Rabbi Moshe Hadarshan offers us several parallels between the Golden Calf and the Red Heifer:
  • Why must the heifer be red? To rectify the infamous idol, which shone with a reddish hue... it is an atonement for Israel’s ‘red’ sin. Scripture likens sin to red, because when a person sins, he forfeits his blood: “Though your sins be like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be white as wool” (Yesha’yahu 1:18). The Holy One says: “Since Israel’s sins are red, let the heifer also be red – and when it is burned, its ashes are white...” thus the prophet assures his people in the Creator’s name that G-d promises, “they shall whiten as snow.”
  • In order for the heifer to be fit, it must never have carried a yoke. This is an allusion to Israel, who threw off the yoke of Heaven in insubordination when they worshiped the Golden Calf.
  • Why must the heifer be given to Eleazar, an assistant, and not to the Kohen Gadol himself? Because Aharon oversaw the creation of the Golden Calf, and therefore it would not seem proper for him to officiate with the heifer. There is a principle, “the one who was prosecutor, cannot become defense attorney.”
  • Three species are used: hyssop, cedar, and scarlet wool, which are reminiscent of the 3,000 who fell at the sin of the calf. Why these three? The cedar is the highest, and the hyssop is the lowest ... and whoever is haughty (equal to the sin of idolatry) must become like a worm (from which the red dye is obtained) in his own eyes, as King David prayed: “I am a worm and not a man” (Tehillim 22:7). If he will lower and humble himself, his sins will be atoned.
  • The heifer is burned, an allusion to the calf that was burned: “He took the calf which they had made, and burned it in the fire…” (Shemot 32:20).
  • Just as the sin of the Golden Calf exerts its influence forever, as it states, “on that day I will remember you and I will remember your sin” (Shemot 32:34). So too the Holy One commanded that the ashes of the Red Heifer be kept as a remembrance for all generations: “They shall be for the congregation of the children of Israel for a remembrance” (Bamidbar 19:19).
  • Just as the Golden Calf rendered all those who participated in it impure – for idolatry causes impurity, as it is written: “You shall cast it away as a thing impure...” (Yesha’yahu 30:22), so the heifer renders all those who come into contact with it impure. As Israel became pure when Moshe burned the Golden Calf – fire being the symbol of purging sin – so Israel becomes pure through the burning of the Red Heifer (Rashi, Bamidbar 19:22).
The impurity of death was actually caused by the Golden Calf. How is that? At the giving of the Torah, Israel were freed from the Angel of Death (Midrash Shemot Rabbah 41:7). This does not imply that they gained immortality, but only that they were free from dying through the Angel of Death. Instead, they died through a Divine Kiss, which does not cause impurity. Therefore, the mother cow (The Red Heifer) indeed comes to clean up the mess i.e. rectify the impurity of death caused by her child (The Golden Calf) (Kli Yakar, Bamidbar 19:2).

From Heifer to Humility
The Red Heifer teaches us about rectification and teshuva. In order to open our heart to the way of repentance, even if we are aware of our own good qualities, we need to view ourselves as ‘impure,’ compared to others. Let him “make the pure (himself) impure” – So that he may “purify the impure.” We can do this by believing in our own heart that our friends are good and righteous. When we give the benefit of the doubt, and feel enough compassion to allow others to make amends for their mistakes, while regarding them as pure, we then merit one level of the heifer’s ashes: true humility, upon which spirit the Divine Presence can rest. Humility is exemplified by Moshe Rabbeinu, as G-d Himself testifies that, “The man Moshe was exceedingly humble, more than any man on the face of the earth” (Bamidbar 12:3). This is why there is a special link between the Red Heifer and Moshe.
ספר במדבר פרק יט פסוק ב ...וְיִקְחוּ אֵלֶיךָ פָרָה אֲדֻמָּה תְּמִימָה
“…Have them bring you a red heifer...” (Bamidbar 19:2).
Why do we need the extra אֵלֶיךָ/alecha – “for you?” It will always be called by your name, people will speak of the cow which Moshe prepared in the wilderness” (Rashi, Bamidbar 19:2). The heifer is called after Moshe, because Moshe’s humility helps us to repent. Moshe’s holiness and righteousness will illuminate and manifest itself to all those who truly desire to emulate him – it is called by his name forever, and his power will shine through to all who seek to emulate his quality.
(The Temple Institute, https://www.templeinstitute.org/red_heifer/red_heifer_contents.htm)

The Tenth Red Heifer and the Mashiach
In Talmudic times they counted nine Red Heifers from the first one mentioned in this week’s parasha. Since then, no one found any additional cow that qualifies for the Red Heifer until recently in a small farm in New Jersey. According to Breaking Israel News April 5, 2015 a red cow was born on April 2, 2013 during Pesach. The gentile farmer, who owns it, has been “extremely vigilant” in making sure that the cow does not engage in any work or sustains any blemishes, which may disqualify it from being a Red Heifer. He refuses to sell it even for millions but plans to bring it in person to the Temple, may it be built soon. (http://www.breakingisraelnews.com/35243/red-heifer-found-small-farm-new-jersey-jewish-world/#UEI3Gb7hSdchUxEG.99)

Rambam teaches that “... the tenth Red Heifer will be accomplished by the king, the Mashiach; may he be revealed speedily” (Mishna Torah, Sefer Tahara, Hilchot Parah Aduma 3:4). Does this imply that the appearance of a Red Heifer in these redemptive times is an indication, a forerunner of the appearance of the Mashiach himself, who will officiate at its preparation? If there has been no Red Heifer for the past 2,000 years, perhaps it is because the time was not right. We cannot help but wonder and pray: If there are now Red Heifers, perhaps we now live in the era that will need them? Which comes first, a mother or her child? The intrinsic necessity of a mother to precede her child is one way of understanding that cryptic parable, “Let the mother come and clean up her child’s filth:” Let the concept of repentance come and erase the sin. (https://www.templeinstitute.org/red_heifer/tenth_red_heifer.htm).

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

The Time-Lapse Blossoming

 Nature in the Parasha - Parashat Korach
King of Fruits
Blossoming Almond Tree - Student Art
I totally delight when the almond trees begin to blossom, heralding the renewal of spring in the midst of the wintry winds. Although the almonds are the first to blossom, their fruits only ripen after we have eaten our fills of mulberries, apricots, nectarines, apples, pears grapes and figs. This is because their fruits are the inner kernel after the velvety fuzzy, fleshy part falls away. There are four parts to the almond: the outer green husk (which some people actually eat), the hard woody shell, the inner brown peel – the seed- coat, which adhere to the nut and is usually eaten, and then finally the inner white kernel – the embryo. As a child, I remember watching my mother blanching the almonds by pouring hot water over them, so you could easily slip off the inner peel. It was a wonder to experience how the almonds changed from brown to become pure white. In my kitchen today, there is no time nor need for such operation. Almonds are soaked, made into delicious almond milk or spreads and added to salads. Sometimes they serve as a snack on the go, together with raisins. Almonds are indeed special; they are the only fruits I know that hosts both protein and a wealth of vitamins. They have, moreover, been proven to lower the risk of heart disease (Harvard Nurses’ Health Study, 1998). In the Indian tradition, almonds are called the “King of Fruits.” According to Rambam, “Figs, grapes and almonds are always the best fruits whether fresh or dried… they are healthier than any other fruit” (Hilchot Deot 4:11). No wonder Hashem chose almonds as the fruit that budded, flowered and fruited on Aharon’s stick to prove that Hashem had selected him to serve in His sanctuary.

Flowering Process Versus Fruiting Product
In the aftermath of Korach’s rebellion against the selection of Aharon as the Kohen Gadol (High Priest), Hashem commanded that each tribe take a rod and place it in the Tabernacle. In order to silence the complaint of the Israelites, Hashem wanted to prove to them that the tribe whose staff would blossom is the one Hashem has chosen for special holy service.

ספר במדבר פרק יז (כג) וַיְהִי מִמָּחֳרָת וַיָּבֹא משֶׁה אֶל אֹהֶל הָעֵדוּת וְהִנֵּה פָּרַח מַטֵּה אַהֲרֹן לְבֵית לֵוִי וַיֹּצֵא פֶרַח וַיָּצֵץ צִיץ וַיִּגְמֹל שְׁקֵדִים
“It came to pass that in the morning Moshe went into the tent of testimony, and behold the rod of Aharon for the house of Levi had sprouted, blossomed, brought forth buds, and yielded almonds” (Bamidbar 17:23).

Rashi explains that after Aharon’s rod blossomed, the blossoms fell off, whereupon it began to sprout forth the beginning of the fruit (צִיץ/tzitz), which then ripened into almonds. Hashem chose to bring forth the miraculous blossoming and fruiting specifically of the almond because almonds blossom earlier than any other fruits. Likewise, the punishment of those who oppose the constituted Kehuna (priesthood) comes quickly. Korach’s claim was that the entire congregation was equal in kedusha (holiness) (Bamidbar 17:3). However, just as the fruit is the main part of the tree, and the inner fruit is the main thing compared to the peel which protects it, likewise the Kohanim are chosen, and the Levites after them. Moreover, the almond peel protects the almonds and are only eaten with the almonds when they are still soft. When they complete their growth, it becomes recognizable that the exterior is only a protection, while only the inside of the fruit gives perfect pleasure. (Machaze Avraham, Parashat Korach). Hierarchy is difficult to accept. Like Korach, many of us connect with the circular reality, where each of us will be equidistant from the circle center. Yet, in this world, some places hold more holiness than others, and some people have a greater capacity for holiness than others. If we don’t accept Aharon and the Kohanim as having extra holiness, how can we ever accept the sanctity of the Divine will? (Actually, today many of us may sometimes do feel that we know better than G-d!). It is interesting that Hashem didn’t just make the almonds sprout forth on Aharon’s rod out of midair. I imagine what happened to Aharon’s stick was like what we see in certain nature movies that show the opening of flowers and their ripening into fruits. Just this time it was not a time-lapse movie, but for real. Hashem purposely chose to show the Israelites the process of producing almonds on Aharon’s stick, and not just the final product of the almond fruits themselves. Although the blossoms and fruit buds have their own value, their purpose is to produce the fruit. So why did Hashem bother with extra miracles of blossoms and fruit buds? Perhaps, this comes to teach us that Aharon and the Kohanim are selected to lead all of us in the process towards perfection. His extra kedusha (holiness) is for our sake – in order to elevate the entire Jewish people. In a way, not only does the process (the blossoms corresponding to the Jewish people) serve the product (the fruit corresponding to the Kohen), the product (the Kohen) also serves the process (the people). As a support for this concept, I noticed that the almond goes through one of the longest ripening processes. Being the first to flower, but one of the last to produce ripe fruits.

Levites and Kohanim – Bitter and Sweet Almonds
The almonds on Aharon’s staff may allude to both the Levites and the Kohanim. The Kohen, who corresponds to the product and purpose, is, nevertheless, compared to the sweet almonds (Prunus dulcis var. dulcis) that have the longest ripening process. The Levites, however, correspond to the bitter almonds (Prunus dulcis var. amara) that ripen earlier and are best when they are small. Likewise, the Levites are dismissed from their service at the age of fifty (Bamidbar 8:25), whereas, there is no age limit to the service of the Kohen (Sefat Emet, Bamidbar, Parashat Korach, year 5652). Yet, the bitter almond has one advantage over the sweet; it is used medicinally in small dosages as a vermifuge, and against bites by mad dogs (Culpepper). However, because of its poisonous nature, great care ought to be exercised in its use. Likewise, the energy of the Levites need to be kept in check, as Ya’acov insinuated on his deathbed (Bereishit 49:5-7), and as we learn from Korach’s rebellion.

Time-Lapse from the Onset of Creation
The almond merited its Hebrew name because it is the first of the trees to flower, as the Hebrew word for almond – שָׁקֵד/shaked means: to be alert, wakeful, industrious, diligent, zealous and to persevere. Likewise, the almonds were chosen to symbolize the Kohannim, who are vigorous and agile in their worship. Not only the Kohen, but all Levites are selected for Divine service as Rambam asserts. “The Levites were exempted from the army as they are Hashem’s soldiers” (Hilchot Shmitta and Yovel 13:12). In their merit, the redemption will come more speedily as we learn from the rod of the tribe of Levi, which sprouted almonds from the language of hastening. Also, the צִיץ/tzitz – fruit bud alludes to the speeding up of the end of days, as the word צִיץ/tzitz shares the numerical value with the word קֵץ/ketz – end (Sefer Panim Yafot, Bamidbar 17:23). Rabbeinu Bachaya teaches that Hashem chose the almonds to sprout forth because of their importance. They symbolizes how Hashem hastens or is watchful to carry out his word like in “שֹׁקֵד אֲנִי/shoked ani I hasten (or I watch over) my word to perform it” (Yirmeyahu 1:12). According to Chizkunia, Aharon’s rod with its blossoms and almonds were included among the miraculous things created on the first Shabbat eve at dusk. So, although the process of ripening into almonds was speeded up on Aharon’s rod, if the preparation for these almonds stems all the way back to the first week of Creation, their ripening process actually exceed that of any other fruit in the world.

A Taste of Kabbalah and Testimony for Everlasting Holiness
Another reason why Hashem made Aharon’s rod blossom is that פֶרַח/perach – blossom has the numerical value of 288 – the amount of sparks that fell into the shells when the vessels broke (Arizal, Sefer Likutei Torah, Parashat Bereishit). Maor v’Shemesh explains that the main purpose of creation was in order to elevate these 288 holy sparks. This is alluded in the very beginning of Creation in “the spirit of G-d [that] hovered on the face of the water” (Bereishit 1:2). The Hebrew word for hovered–מְרַחֶפֶת/merachefet includes the letters of פֶרַח/perach =288. Only the ba’al teshuva has the ability to elevate these holy sparks. This is why it states, “In a place where ba’alei teshuva stand, complete tzadikkim cannot stand” (Babylonian Talmud, Berachot 44b). The fruit bud on Aharon’s rod also alludes to these holy sparks – נְצוּצוֹת/netzutzot from the same root as צִיץ/tzitz – fruit buds. Hashem –the name יקוק/Ykvk is the soul of the world, the name אדנ”י/Adn-i is its garment, while the name אהי”ה/E-he-y-h is the surrounding light that is more brilliant than the inner lights. This is because the name אהי”ה/E-he-y-h indicates teshuva from the future language, as the ba’al teshuva has to always say, “I will worship Hashem even if I still haven’t achieved it. I will accept upon myself to serve Him from now on.” The word שְׁקֵדִים/shekedim – almonds with the kollel (adding 1 for the word) has the same numerical value of 455 as the word אהי”ה/E-he-y-h when the letters are spelled out in three different ways (161+151+143). Almonds indeed are suitable to be selected to indicate the holiness of Aharon and the tribe of Levi. Even the letters of the word שְׁקֵדִים/shekedim – almonds consist of the exact Hebrew letters as קְדשִׁים/kedoshim – holy. Thus, the almond blossoms and fruits on Aharon’s rod is a testimony to the selection of Aharon and the tribe of Levi for everlasting holiness.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

The Secret of Challah & the Feminine Tikun (Rectification)

Nature in the Parasha - Parashat Shelach Lecha
The Spiritual Revival of Women’s Mitzvah of Challah
Challah Braiding at B'erot
This week’s Torah portion includes the mitzvah of separating challah. This same parasha opens with a recount of the negative speech of the spies who were afraid to conquer the Land of Israel, This caused the Jewish people to wander for forty years in the desert rather than proceed directly into the Land of Israel. As the primary rectification for the nation of Israel’s abandonment of their Land, Hashem grants us the mitzvah of taking challah. It is so beautiful that in the Torah whenever we miss the mark, Hashem gives us an opportunity to amend through additional mitzvot.

Therefore, this week’s parasha offers three new mitzvot to rectify the spies’ lack of faith. Parashat Shelach Lecha concludes with the mitzvah of wine libation, challah offering and tzitzit all in the Book of Bamidbar, chapter 15. The wine libation is an atonement for the nation as a whole since Israel is compared to the grapevine (Hoshea 9:10). Whereas the mitzvah of tzitzit is the primary rectification for the men’s role in abandoning the Land of Israel, challah is one of the three mitzvot dedicated for women to rectify not only the sin of the spies but even eating from the Tree of Knowledge by the very first woman in the Garden of Eden. Since we live in the times of redemption, we are already in the process of rectifying the sins of the Garden. Therefore, it is not surprising that the mitzvah of baking and separating challah has received a spiritual revival in our time. Women, the world over and especially in Eretz Yisrael, bake their own challah for Shabbat. Many even organize groups of 40 women to bake challah as a segula (spiritual empowerment) for a friend to receive healing, find her soul-mate, or conceive. More and more women participate in this important mitzvah, which help speed up our redemption process.

Personally, I am in my 35th year of baking my own Shabbat challah. I have treasured this holy mitzvah since the beginning of our marriage. I once heard Rabbi Lazer Brody say, at one of his lectures at Midreshet B’erot Bat Ayin, that a woman who bakes her own challah in honor of Shabbat is empowered to remain married. This statement was naturally refuted by one of the participants: a divorced woman who had always been meticulous about baking her own challah. Rabbi Lazer didn’t intend that we take his statement literally to that degree. Reality has many components. However, baking our own challah is an important connection component. It connects us to ourselves, to our husbands and to the Land of Israel. One of the meanings of the word challah from the word chila (mechale) is to soften, sooth and sweeten. We can sweeten the judgment through the awareness that everything emanates from Hashem. The purpose of the mitzvah of challah is to recognize Hashem, even when preoccupied with material abundance, by separating the first of our challah as an offering. Challah is the only mitzvah among those, which are dependent on the Land that we keep even in exile, outside of the Land. Perhaps the mitzvah of challah comes to sweeten the darkness and judgment of exile, and pave the way for redemption. This fits in with the meaning of the word that Rabbi Nachman attributes to challah, namely that of hope and awaiting for salvation (Rabbi Natan of Breslau, Likutei Halachot, Hilchot Pidyon Bechor, Halacha 5). I hope to encourage and strengthen all of us to continue to bake and separate challah by sharing some spiritual insights of why this mitzvah is so important for women.

Challah – A Bridge between Holy and Mundane
ספר במדבר פרק טו
יז) וַיְדַבֵּר הָשֵׁם אֶל משֶׁה לֵּאמֹר: יח) דַּבֵּר אֶל בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וְאָמַרְתָּ אֲלֵהֶם בֹאֲכֶם אֶל הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר אֲנִי מֵבִיא אֶתְכֶם שָׁמָּה: יט) וְהָיָה בַּאֲכָלְכֶם מִלֶּחֶם הָאָרֶץ תָּרִימוּ תְרוּמָה לַהָשֵׁם: כ) רֵאשִׁית עֲרִסֹתֵכֶם חַלָּה תָּרִימוּ תְרוּמָה כִּתְרוּמַת גֹּרֶן כֵּן תָּרִימוּ אֹתָהּ: כא) מֵרֵאשִׁית עֲרִסֹתֵיכֶם תִּתְּנוּ לַהָשֵׁם תְּרוּמָה לְדֹרֹתֵיכֶם

“Hashem spoke to Moshe, saying: Speak to the Children of Israel and say to them: “As you come into the land into which I am bringing you there. When you eat of the bread of the land, you shall offer up a gift (terumah) to Hashem. [From] the first of your kneading bowl, you shall offer up a challah as a gift (terumah); like the gift of the threshing-floor, so you shall offer it up. From the first of your kneading bowl, you shall give to Hashem an offering, throughout your generations” (Bamidbar 15:17-21).

The word challah originally referred exclusively to the sanctified challah offering, which we set aside for the Kohen. This challah offering makes us worthy to receive a bracha in our home, as it states, “...You shall also give to the Kohen the first of your dough, that he may cause a blessing to rest on your home” (Yechezkiel 44:30). The mitzvah of challah is performed on all dough (of a minimal quantity), whether it is intended for baking for Shabbat or for a weekday. Today, however, the term challah has become synonymous with the bread baked specifically for Shabbat. Perhaps this is because Jewish women traditionally baked enough bread for Shabbat to be required to set aside challah. In the times of the Second Temple, even young unmarried daughters regarded this mitzvah as so important that they would spend their own money for baking enough bread to take challah every Shabbath eve (Shulchan Aruch, Yore Deah 328).

Today, many women have adopted this minhag (custom). It is also possible that challah has evolved to refer to the bread permissible for all to eat (not just for the Kohen) because the name challah shares the root with the word chulin (mundane, ordinary, without sanctity). It is as if the word challah is a bridge between the profane (chol) and the holy. We can now understand why the term challah today specifically refers to the Shabbat bread, as its original meaning referring to the sanctity of the holy challah offering is retained by the fact that it now refers to the holy Shabbat bread. On Shabbat, we rise to a level similar to the Kohen, our table becomes a mizbeach (altar) and our food a korban (sacrifice). Through keeping the mitzvah of challah and partaking in the Shabbat challah, regularly, people lacking the special holiness of the Kohen, may receive a certain level of holiness too. In addition, challah as the staff of life symbolizes food in general and teaches that everything is in its essence holy – kodesh, and always will be. G-d gives us permission to use His world for a mundane, chol purpose, under one condition: that we preserve its holy essence.

From Cradle to Kneading Trough – Dedicating the First to Hashem
Challah is also related to the word הֲתְּחַלָּהּ/hatchala – beginning. The mitzvah of challah is hinted in the beginning of creation. The very first word of the Torah, בְּרֵאשִׁית/Bereishit – “At the beginning,” alludes to the mitzvah of separating challah, which also is called רֵאשִׁית/reishit – “beginning” in our Torah verse. From here we learn that G-d created the world for the sake of the challah (Bereishit Rabbah 1:4). Maharal points out that Hashem created the world for the sake of chesed (Tehillim 89:3). The mitzvah of separating challah is considered a great chesed for it is done equally to the poor and the rich. Chesed is, moreover, one of the three pillars upon which the world rests. Therefore, Hashem created the world for the sake of the mitzvah of challah (Maharal, Derech Chaim, Chapter 1, Mishnah 18). Setting aside challah indicates dedication to the Divine. This dedication takes place right at the start, as we take challah even before braiding it. The law of separating challah teaches us to dedicate the very beginning of everything to Hashem by expressing our recognition of G-d. The Hebrew term for kneading bowl is עֲרִסָה/arissa, which also means a child’s cradle. This alludes to the beginning of human life. From the very start of any pivotal moment of our lives, we must dedicate the first and best to Hashem.

Connection with the Land
The mitzvah of challah is the first terumah offering connected to the Land of Israel. It applied from the moment the Jewish people entered the Land, as we learn from the expression, בְּבֹאֲכֶם אֶל הָאָרֶץ – “When you come into the land” (Bamidbar 15:18). Upon entering the Holy Land, we were no longer spoon-fed manna, but required to earn our own keep by cultivating the land. Because of the tremendous human effort put into producing bread, one may be tempted to forget that without Hashem’s blessing we would not be able to lift even a finger. Therefore, especially while working hard for our living, we need to remember Hashem by separating off a piece of our dough as a challah offering. Since it is a greater challenge to remember Hashem while involved in the earthly pursuit of working the land rather than receiving manna directly from His heavenly hand, the mitzvah of separating challah symbolizes our superior relationship with Hashem that empowers us to assume ownership over the Land of Israel as Rabbi Nachman teaches:

ספר לקוטי עצות - ערך ארץ ישראל יב מצות חלה היא בחינת ירושת ארץ ישראל
The mitzvah of challah is the aspect of inheriting the Land (Likutei Eitzot, Eretz Yisrael).

Women & Challah
During our current Messianic era, we have begun to experience the unending beauty and excitement of discovering G-d even in the core physical experience of making bread. The more mindful we become the more we allow the spiritual light to break through, and reveal how the bread is a means of ‘holding’ that light and making its presence tangibly felt in our material world. Our matriarch Sarah achieved this level in her own lifetime. This is why her bread stayed fresh from one eve of Shabbat to the next (Yalkut Shimoni, Bereishit 24:109). The life force that she was able to identify – the Shechinah – did not depart. In her role as matriarch, Sarah laid the foundations for the future of every Jewish woman’s spiritual journey. Hashem let her experience a miracle week after week – leaving a permanent imprint not just on her, but on each of her future descendants. Sarah experienced the miraculous blessings of her tent, and not Abraham, because women elevate this world and raise it to reconnect with its Source. The direction of men is opposite. They bring down light from above to below, through learning Torah as an end in itself. When Sarah died; the miracle no longer took place – although the widowed Avraham continued to take challah from the dough. Today too, women are given precedence in performing this mitzvah. As life-givers, we can rectify the world by relating it to its Source – the Divine Presence. We are the ones who knead the dough, and feel how its components of flour and water – physical and spiritual – join (Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller, http://www.aish.com/sh/t/rai/48970616.html).

Bread– The Perfection of Humanity
It is the woman who bakes challah just like it is her role to refine man. Baking bread is a microcosm of our spiritual refinement process – reflecting the many steps it takes to actualize our potential. It reflects becoming refined and transformed over and over until we become what were are meant to be. Bread is the ultimate hard-work food as it takes eleven steps to create it, from sowing the grains to baking the loaves. Since baking bread reflects the perfection of humanity, it brings us closer to Mashiach, the most perfect human being. Therefore, it is not by chance that Mashiach derives from Beit Lechem (the house of Bread). Mashiach will be a direct descendant of King David, who was born in Beit Lechem (I Shmuel 17:12).

The Braided Shabbat Challah – Unifying Our Fragmented World
Wheat used to be a tree, as Rabbi Yehuda taught that the Tree of Knowledge was wheat (Babylonian Talmud, Brachot 40a). After the sin of eating from the Tree, the Tree fell and became dispersed into many sheaves of wheat and its status was lowered into a mere grain. When the first woman tempted man to eat from the Tree of Knowledge, she spoiled him, who was “the bread of the world.” Therefore, we have the opportunity to repair her transgression by baking enough bread to separate a challah offering. The braiding of the challah may reflect unifying the split consciousness caused by eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. By braiding the challah, we symbolically unify the scattered sheaves and elevate them to once again become one unified entity braided together, like the Tree prior to its fall. Braiding with six could signify the unification of the physical realm with its six dimensions. The challah created from these six strands symbolizes the seventh dimension – the aspect of Shabbat – the holiness within the physical reality. The Mitzvah of challah braids together, Israel, the Land, the Woman and Hashem. Although in the Torah it refers strictly to the gift for the Kohen, naming it challah (from chulin) – food permissible for all to eat, Hashem encoded within it the evolvement to become what we call our Shabbat bread. The mitzvah of challah represents refinement and recreation of the perfect human being as a tikun for eating from the Tree. Therefore, this mitzvah is linked to Shabbat, which represents the perfected reality, מֵעֵין עוֹלָם הַבָּא – (A foretaste of the World to Come). The unifying quality of challah binds the physical to the spiritual by recognizing Hashem even within the most physical reality. This process will culminate with the Mashiach from Beit Lechem (House of Bread) – the most refined human being women can produce through sifting, kneading and baking. May it be our merit to see the unity and wholeness – that Challah so deeply represents – redefining the fragmented and wounded world in which we live!

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

The Celestial Cloud Covering

Nature in the Parsha - Parashat B’ha’alotcha
Following the Divine Cloud
The Celestial Cloud Covering over Bat Ayin
I admire those of my students who follow the Divine cloud. They live in the moment, without solid plans, opening themselves to their inner voice of when to come and when to move on. I have lived in the same home for more than 15 years and it doesn’t look like we’re going anywhere else. I love our home and its location but I don’t want to become too set in my ways. When we become too settled, we have everything set up for ourselves to be self-sufficient, almost making us too independent of needing Hashem. Rabbi Moshe Cordevero writes quoting the Zohar that in order to acquire Malchut (royalty) – the embodiment of humility one must go into exile, as the Shechina is in exile, moving constantly from place to place (Tomer Devorah, chapter 9). There is something attractively spiritual about moving from place to place, picking up fallen sparks, never getting stuck, always on the go, mindful of Hashem’s messages for when to move on. On the other hand, it is difficult when people you love visit your country, but they don’t want to make plans, they take things day by day, following the cloud. Here in Bat Ayin we are blessed with an abundance of clouds. Sometimes when I look out of my window it seems like we are flouting right inside of the clouds, which are hanging so low over the mountains. These clouds may not be formed by the special magic of Bat Ayin, although they certainly add to it. It is known that clouds easily form on mountains. When a wall of air and water vapor encounters a mountainside, it has nowhere else to go but up the slopes. Since rising water vapor cools, it eventually condenses to form clouds. A cloud is a being that floats between existence and non-existence. You see its constantly changing shape moving along the sky. If you try to grab it, or hold on to it, you might walk right through it. Its borders are not defined, yet it is still hovering over us and protecting us at this very moment. Such a cloud was leading the Jewish people in the wilderness:
ספר במדבר פרק ט
(טו) וּבְיוֹם הָקִים אֶת הַמִּשְׁכָּן כִּסָּה הֶעָנָן אֶת הַמִּשְׁכָּן לְאֹהֶל הָעֵדֻת וּבָעֶרֶב יִהְיֶה עַל הַמִּשְׁכָּן כְּמַרְאֵה אֵשׁ עַד בֹּקֶר: (טז) כֵּן יִהְיֶה תָמִיד הֶעָנָן יְכַסֶּנּוּ וּמַרְאֵה אֵשׁ לָיְלָה: (יז) וּלְפִי הֵעָלוֹת הֶעָנָן מֵעַל הָאֹהֶל וְאַחֲרֵי כֵן יִסְעוּ בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וּבִמְקוֹם אֲשֶׁר יִשְׁכָּן שָׁם הֶעָנָן שָׁם יַחֲנוּ בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל:(יח) עַל פִּי יְהֹוָה יִסְעוּ בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וְעַל פִּי יְהֹוָה יַחֲנוּ כָּל יְמֵי אֲשֶׁר יִשְׁכֹּן הֶעָנָן עַל הַמִּשְׁכָּן יַחֲנוּ
“On the day that the Tabernacle was set up, the cloud covered the Tabernacle, the Tent of Meeting, and in the evening it rested over the Tabernacle in the likeness of fire until the morning. It was always so, the cloud covered it, appearing as fire by night. Whenever the cloud lifted from the Tent, the Israelites would set out accordingly; and at the spot where the cloud settled, there the Israelites would make camp. At a command they remained encamped as long as the cloud stayed over the Tabernacle…” (Bamidbar 9:15-18).

Soft, Fluffy, Protective, Cushioning Cloud
The Cloud of Glory is the manifestation of Hashem’s Shechina (Divine Indwelling Presence). It was this cloud that was hanging over Sarah’s tent; it was present at Sinai during the giving of the Torah, it filled the Tabernacle, and later the King Solomon’s glorious Temple. Why did Hashem chose the medium of a cloud to reveal Himself?

Hashem’s Shechina is identical with the Ohr HaGanuz (Hidden Light). This is the brightest light – the highest ontological level of Hashem-Presence projectable into creation. We cannot look into the light of the sun due to its brightness. How much more impossible to be in the presence of Hashem’s brightest light. Therefore, He wrapped his light in the soft fluffy cushioning cloud, to protect us from His blinding light. Actually, the Hebrew word for cloud עָנָן /anan is connected to an Arabic verb that means to cover or conceal, (HAW Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament). Without knowing this I have often used the imagery of a cloud in EmunaHealing for people who may have various fears, like most of us and need to be strengthened in their emunah and bitachon (trust). I guide them to imagine floating inside of a soft fluffy cloud, feeling safe, feeling protected, floating without knowing to where, but trusting that all is going to be fine…

All-encompassing Cloud – Including all Elements of Creation
Clouds are formed by evaporated water rising from the earth through the wind. The water vapor clings to other numerous particles or dust found in the atmosphere. The water then condenses and forms the structure of the cloud. Most clouds are white. That’s because water and ice particles that make up a cloud have just the right amount and sizes to scatter light in all possible wavelengths. When light of practically all wavelengths combine, the result is white light (http://www.universetoday.com/46489/how-are-clouds-formed/). In this way, the cloud includes all four elements of creation. Dust particles from the element of earth, wind and atmosphere from the element of air, water vapor from the element of water, and light from the element of fire. It now makes perfectly sense why Hashem reveals Himself in the all-encompassing cloud that includes all elements of creation within it. It also makes sense that Hashem, Who is beyond the physical chooses the cloud to manifest within in the physical world, as the cloud is made of הָבֶל/hevel – vapor – a non-material material. It has no physical existence as it is in the process of evaporating. This teaches us that everything in the physical world in truth has no real permanent existence. “Vapor of vapor said Kohelet, vapor of vapor, everything eventually evaporates” (Kohelet 1:2). Although it evaporates nothing ever disappears, it only changes form like a cloud that changes shape and transforms itself from water to cloud, back again to the moisture of rain and dew. Likewise, Hashem’s Shechina never disappears from Israel. It is always with us even when it is concealed. Actually, although the Torah states that the cloud lead the Israelites during the day, and at night it was a pillar of fire, the cloud was still there during the night. It was only the darkness that concealed it. This perfect metaphor strengthens our belief that Hashem’s Shechina-cloud is still with us even if it isn’t apparent to us all at any given moment. When we actively seek it out, it may just appear between the silver lining of the clouds.

Causing the Reappearance of the Cloud
Today, it is very politically incorrect to be obedient. This word has such a negative connotation that it almost became a dirty word! It could be because we have recently experienced the greatest disaster and holocaust caused by immaculate obedience to the most heinous person of history. So today, we cringe at the notion of having our actions, dress code and feelings dictated. The freedom to do, wear, feel, say, scream, decide whatever we want is what most modern day people desire. They want to have full control over their own lives. Everyone wants to do their own thing. Young couples want to decide when to have children; some even found a way to decide the sex of their unborn children. Conversion candidates want to determine the time of their program and their date of conversion. Some get upset if things don’t work out their way. All this is contrasted to the way the Israelites lived during their wandering in the wilderness. “At the command of Hashem they would encamp, and at the command of Hashem they would journey” (Bamidbar 9:23). During the wanderings in the wilderness obedience was not a dirty word. Not only did the Israelites follow the cloud and pick themselves up immediately at the very first clue, even if they were nicely settled. They did it with desire for compliance to the Divine command. This is why it states, “Wherever the cloud settled there the Israelites would make camp יַחֲנוּ/yachanu” (Bamidbar 9:17). It didn’t state, חֲנוּ/chanu – ‘they camped,’ but rather “they would make camp” indicating that they desired to make camp wherever Hashem commanded it. Even “When the cloud lingered over the Tabernacle many days the Israelites observed Hashem’s mandate and did not journey on” (Bamidbar 9:19). While others may have been eager to move on, weary of staying in the same dry empty space filled with dangerous snakes and scorpions, the Israelites remained only because they desired to keep the word of G-d (Ohr HaChayim, Bamidbar 9:18). We civilized modern westerners can learn much from the Israelites’ desire to do the will of G-d. It is time for us to grow up and become mature enough to learn to differentiate between following an evil dictator and obeying the holy word of Hashem, even when presented to us through the Rabbis in Halacha (Jewish law) or current role models and mentors. Then perhaps and only then will Hashem’s cloud of glory which is always with us become visible to us again. “When G-d has washed away the filth of the daughters of Tzion, and has rinsed the blood of Yerushalayim from her midst, by the spirit of judgment and by the spirt of burning. Then Hashem will create above every dwelling place of Mount Tzion, and above her assemblies, a cloud by day and smoke with glow of flaming fire by night. For over all the glory there will be a covering (Yesha’yahu 4:4-5).

May this happen soon in Mashiach’s days, when the Cloud of Hashem’s Glory will hang over the Eternal Temple!