Wednesday, March 30, 2016

When EmunaHealers and Shamanic Hebrew Priestesses Meet

Life Lessons from the Rebbetzin’s Heart - Parashat Shemini
My Experience with Women Reading from the Torah Scroll
Our recent Emunahealing retreat at the Isabella Friedman Jewish Retreat Center was quite an experience. We were such an interesting mix of 26 women – from Chabad to Litvish; some with a strong Brooklyn accent; ladies of Russian background and those who recently discovered their Jewishness. There was such an accepting atmosphere among the bewigged, those wearing pants and women with flowing scarves, like myself. We all came together to strengthen our emuna and recharge our spiritual batteries in order to serve Hashem with more zeal and vigor. A few days prior to departing on my North American, whirlwind tour, I discovered that our weekend-retreat was scheduled to take place during Parashat Zachor when we have the obligation to hear this Torah portion read from a Kosher Torah scroll (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 685). I immediately inquired of the Isabella Retreat Center if they had a man, perhaps the mashgiach (kosher supervisor) who could read Parashat Zachor for us. While they did have a kosher Sefer Torah, there was no man available to read it for us. So, “In a place where there are no men, you must make an effort to be a man” (Pirkei Avot 2:5). This is what the Rabbi, my husband, ruled: since women are obligated to hear Parashat Zachor, when it is not possible to hear it read by a man, a woman may read it from a kosher Sefer Torah to the group. I, personally, do not know the cantillation notes well enough to feel comfortable reading from the Torah scroll. So, I asked Hashem, and He sent me a candidate via email, who practiced for the entire week to read Parashat Zachor at the EmunaHealing retreat. However, someone questioned my choice, as this woman was single. With much deliberation, and the desire to keep the Torah law in the very best way and consideration for everyone’s feelings and concerns, the most suitable candidate was found to read from the actual Torah scroll while everyone else had the option to follow in the Chumash or recite it with her. The next job was to roll the Torah to the right place, which occurred with much trepidation since it was the first time for most of us handling a Sefer Torah. When we had almost found the place, somehow who seemed to really know, told us, “You need to roll it much tighter!” so we started over again, I stood at one end of the table unrolling while another married woman stood at the other end rolling so tight I was afraid that the Torah scroll would tear. Baruch Hashem the Torah scroll survived our inexperienced hands without any injuries. My husband later told me it doesn’t have to be rolled tightly.

Are there any Restrictions for Women Touching a Torah Scroll?
Although the Talmud, Rambam and subsequent Halachic authorities rule that the Torah is not susceptible to receive tuma (impurity), (Babylonian Talmud B’rachot 22a), (Rambam, Laws of Tefillin, Mezuza and Sefer Torah 10:8), in order to do the right thing according to all opinions, we made sure that only a married woman handled the Torah scroll and read from it. This was in order to respect the view that a woman who is niddah (has not immersed in a mikvah after her menstruation) should not touch sacred objects or look at the Torah scroll ((Magen Avraham, Orach Chayim 88:2), also cited by Mishna B’rurah 88:6). This custom derives from the B’raita of tractate Niddah 1:2, which states that a woman who has her period must not come into the synagogue or touch any sacred object. Nevertheless, this is only a custom and not the halacha (Torah law) as Shulchan Aruch explicitly teaches:

שו"ע יורה דעה - סימן רפב

כל הטמאים, אפילו נדות, מותרים לאחוז בס"ת ולקרות בו. והוא שלא יהיו ידיהם מטונפות או מלוכלכות:
All those who are impure, even a niddah are permitted to hold a Torah scroll and read from it, as long as their hands are not filthy or dirty (Shulhan Aruch, Yoreh De’ah, 282:9).

I still recall the sense of awe and compassion filling me as we took of the small tallit- wrapped Torah from the ark, removed its burgundy velvet ribbon and opened it to reveal the animated black letters on its yellowing parchment. It felt like a newborn baby to our tender touch and very much alive. I didn’t give anyone an aliyah to the Torah to recite the blessing “Asher bachar banu (who has chosen us)…” as I didn’t want to be associated with feminist women’s prayer groups- whether on or off the Wall.

The Priestesses’ Shabbat Drumming
What distinguished our women’s Torah service from that of the many feminist groups prevalent in our time? We, too, prayed together as women and read from the Torah scroll. I believe the subtle difference is in the intention. We were not coming from a place of wanting to prove that women can read from the Torah just like men. Our intention was to fulfill our mitzvah to hear Parashat Zachor and we had no other way than to read it ourselves. Our mellow Shabbat prayer service contrasted with the loud drumming which exuded from another room, a considerable distance away. The Isabella Friedman Center had once again chosen to host our group together with a group called Hebrew Priestess Institute or Kohenet – supposedly a female version of Kohen. I guess Isabella Friedman believes our two groups are compatible since they scheduled us together for the second time in a row. By now, I had familiarized myself with the philosophy of Kohenet, founded in 2005 by Rabbi Jill Hammer and Taya Shere. Kohenet trains and ordains women as Kohanot – Hebrew Priestesses to officiate at weddings, burials and other lifecycle events, facilitating transformative ritual for mixed-gender communities. Kohenet employs “archetypes of the ancient Hebrew priestesses, [such as] …the Shamaness, the Lover, and the Fool.”

Priestesses to Whom?
Kohenet has somehow succeeded to attract spiritually seeking young women, the type who would do very well at Midreshet B’erot Bat Ayin. Most of them are “captured babies” who do not have the Torah background to be able to decipher Kohenet’s many principles that go against the Torah. Whereas, I have nothing personal against any of the individual women adherents, I disagree strongly with the philosophy of Kohenet. First of all, there is no such thing as Kohenesses! The Torah clearly bequeaths Aharon’s priesthood to his sons (Rambam, Biyat HaMikdash 9:1). A Jewish woman can be a daughter of a Kohen but never a Kohen. We women are the Priestesses of our home, and that is no less important than the Temple service and certainly more vital than officiating at the wedding of an intermarried or gay couple. I only have pity for women who feel that their self-worth is dependent on fulfilling masculine roles in the Torah. Moreover, the shamanic elements of Kohenet and their altar rites, borders on outright idol-worship.

Kosher or non-Kosher Renewed Ways of Serving Hashem?
This week’s Torah portion about Aharon’s sons, who sacrificed “a strange fire,” anticipates such spiritual seeking “priestesses.” “Nadav and Avihu, the sons of Aharon, took each of them his firepan, and put fire in it, and laid incense on it; they offered a strange fire before the Eternal which He had not commanded them” (Vayikra 10:1). Aharon’s sons were spiritual to the highest degree. They wanted to express their desire to come close to the Divine in their own creative ways. The only problem was that their way of service consisted of a strange fire that G-d had not commanded. In our New Age era, there is a strong surge to serve Hashem in innovative and creative ways. This is because we are at the verge of the final redemption with renewal in the air. While some of the renewed ways of Torah ritual which are being rediscovered such as techelet (sky-blue thread) in the tzitzit (prayer fringes), or Tu beShevat Seders must be encouraged, the tragic death of Aharon’s sons teaches us the dire consequences of overstepping the boundaries of Kosher ways of serving Hashem.

The Strange Fire of Deliberately Opposing Hashem’s Commandments
The crux that makes the difference between life and death is whether we desire to fulfill Hashem’s commandments or allow our own desires to dictate our Divine service- even that “which He had not commanded.” One of the priestesses that I spoke with, interrupted our conversation by saying, “Sorry, I have to go because we are making Havdalah.” When I informed her, “Shabbat only goes out in another seven minutes,” she blatantly responded, “Our Havdalah is now, we don’t keep halacha!” In other words, the Kohenet movement deliberately chooses to go against Hashem’s commandments in their “Divine service.” Aharon’s sons, at least, were not aware that their fire was strange. Their devotion and zeal to serve Hashem with utmost love brought them beyond the Torah boundaries.

Holy Fire of Unity
We had requested to take our meals in our private learning room in order to facilitate personal sharing around the meals. Yet, in order not to appear anti-social, we decided to join Kohenet in the dining hall for the third meal on Shabbat. Last year, they were a great majority and dominated the atmosphere, but this year the tables had turned. Their reduced group amounted to little more than half of our number. This gave us confidence to create an atmosphere of Torah and Kedusha. Several of the EmunaHealing facilitators stood up and spoke words of Torah to the entire group in the dining hall. We then lead everyone in the traditional third meal Shabbat zemirot. One of the great highlights of the entire retreat was when we spontaneously got up to dance with every woman in the dining hall, to the enthusiastic singing of Mi’shenichnas Adar, and Hine ma tov... The power of the unity of all forty or so women holding hands, and circling around the room as our voices meshed in tender, loving song and reverberated to the expanding walls of Isabella Friedman. The energy was especially high since it broke through and melted away the many differences and disagreements between us. Priestesses, Emunahealers or Rebbetzins? When it comes down to it, we are all just daughters of Hashem!

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

The Poor Man’s Offering

Life Lessons from Rebbetzin’s Heart - Parashat Tzav
The Pride of the Poor
Rebbetzin on Tour last week
I grew up in an upper middle class home in Denmark and money was never important to me. My parents worked very hard so we three girls would have everything they didn’t have when growing up. Yet, we did not appreciate our parents’ efforts to ensure that we never lacked anything materially. Food, clothes, travels; and a nice, private room in a suburban villa was all taken for granted. I moved to Israel and chose the Torah path, where spirituality took precedence over materialism. For seven years, my husband and I soaked up Torah and became satiated from its well, without caring about ‘making a living.’ We lived a Torah lifestyle, according to our sages: “Such is the way of Torah: Bread with salt you shall eat, water in small measure you shall drink, and upon the ground you shall sleep. Live a life of deprivation and toil in Torah. If you do so, ‘you are fortunate, and it will be good for you’ (Tehillim 128:2). You are fortunate in this world, and it is good for you in the World- to-Come (Pirkei Avot 6:4). Indeed, we felt fortunate and happy with our hand-me-downs and Yad Eliezer (Goodwill) baskets, as we proudly cited the intricacies of the Torah commentaries. I could never relate to my parents’ generation who often judged people based on how much money they made. We felt no need to prove ourselves by our pocketbook, and we enjoyed the simple, spiritual life. In fact today, among some it is actually a status symbol to be poor! However, throughout history, up until these recent times of material overflow, people’s worth was measured by their financial means, and being poor was looked upon as a lower status. Therefore, the Torah comes to protect the honor of the poor in regards to various sacrifices.

An Offering of the Soul|
This week’s parasha opens with the mitzvah of הָעֹלָה/ha’olah – the burnt offering.

ספר ויקרא פרק ו (ב) צַו אֶת אַהֲרֹן וְאֶת בָּנָיו לֵאמֹר זֹאת תּוֹרַת הָעֹלָה הִוא הָעֹלָה עַל מוֹקְדָה עַל הַמִּזְבֵּחַ כָּל הַלַּיְלָה עַד הַבֹּקֶר וְאֵשׁ הַמִּזְבֵּחַ תּוּקַד בּוֹ:
“Command Aaron and his sons, saying: This is the law of the burnt-offering: it is that which goes up on its firewood upon the altar all night until the morning; while the fire on the altar is kept burning in it” (Vayikra 6:2).

The Hebrew word for “burnt offering” עֹלָה/olah actually means to ‘ascend.’ According to classical commentaries, this term refers to the ascent of the mind after making the sacrifice. The olah offering could be made by anyone needing such atonement – at-one-ment – with Hashem. It was not intended only for the rich who could afford to sacrifice a cow. A dove or even the inexpensive meal offering qualifies for the burnt-offering:

משנה מסכת מנחות פרק יג 

(יא) נֶאֱמַר בְּעוֹלַת הַבְּהֵמָה אִשֵּׁה רֵיחַ נִיחוֹחַ, וּבְעוֹלַת הָעוֹף אִשֵּׁה רֵיחַ נִיחוֹחַ, וּבַמִּנְחָה אִשֵּׁה רֵיחַ נִיחוֹחַ, לְלַמֵד, שֶׁאֶחָד הַמַּרְבֶּה וְאֶחָד הַמַּמְעִיט, וּבִלְבַד שֶׁיְּכַוֵּן אָדָם אֶת דַּעְתּוֹ לַשָּׁמָיִם:
It is said of the burnt-offerings of cattle, “an offering made by fire of a satisfying aroma to Hashem;” and of the burnt-offerings of birds, “an offering made by fire of a satisfying aroma to Hashem;” and of the meal-offering “an offering made by fire of a satisfying aroma to Hashem.” This is to teach you that it is the same whether a person offers much or little, as long as he directs his heart to heaven (Mishna Menachot 13:11).

“Hashem desires our heart” (Ramban, Ketuvot 9b). There is no reason to feel guilty even though we can only do a little, as long as, we do what we can with our full heart. In my experience, often, the people that have less give more. Sometimes, I even feel guilty receiving their donation, when I am aware of their tight budget. Hashem really values the humble gift of the poor. When a poor man, who does not own an animal, scrapes together the few coins necessary to buy the ingredients of the meal offering, Hashem considers it as if he is offering his very soul (Menachot 104b). Regarding the inexpensive meal-offering it states, “A nefesh (soul) who sacrifices a meal offering to Hashem” (Vayikra 2:1). This term isn’t used by any of the other sacrifices. The reason why the term, “nefesh” is used only by the meal offering is that Hashem says, ‘This poor man has brought me this offering; I consider it as though he brought me his soul…’ (Rashi, Vayikra 2:1).

The Privilege to Give What You Can
I was moved by the following story that beautifully illustrates Rashi’s commentary.: Avraham was a man with limited financial means but unlimited drive and determination to connect more and more to his Judaism. His friend told him about a parlor meeting with a prominent Rabbi who was raising funds for his institution. His friend, who was in a similar financial situation, suggested that they go and participate. Avraham was hesitant at first. “I don't think we are the clientele who they are trying to attract.” However his friend, , insisted and so, he agreed to join him. At the parlor meeting, the Rav spoke excellently. Afterwards, people started to call out their pledges to his institution. They ranged from several thousand dollars down to a few hundred. Since these amounts were out of range for these two men, Avraham was feeling a bit uncomfortable and unsure what to do. Then, he saw his friend pull out his checkbook and proudly write a check for twenty-five dollars, which was an amount that he could afford, he urged Avraham to do the same. “We have the same obligation and privilege as everyone else to donate what we can. We have nothing to be ashamed of. In the eyes of Hashem, our donation is just as pleasing as that of everyone else” (Rabbi Ciner’s Weekly Parsha Page).

Honoring the Poor on Purim
The holiday of Purim also highlights the value of the poor and the importance of honoring them. One of the main mitzvot of Purim, is the mitzvah of Matanot La'evyonim – giving a gift of money to at least two poor people on the day of Purim, equal to at least the value of a simple meal. Although, we also have a mitzvah to deliver Mishloach Manot, (ready-to-eat-gifts to friends), and enjoy a holiday meal on Purim, it is inappropriate to eat a fancy meal, and buy expensive Mishloach Manot at the expense of gifts to the poor (Rambam, Hilchot Megillah 2:17). In addition, there is a beautiful custom to contribute three half-dollar coins (or their equivalent) to tzedakka, before reading the Megillah in the synagogue. This symbolizes the half-shekel that every Jew used to give to the Temple (Shemot 30:11-16). Why does the Torah specify a half-shekel instead of a whole? By giving only a half, each of us realizes that we can never become complete unless we are part of the larger community. Accordingly, Jewish law states that everyone, whether rich or poor, is to give no more and no less than a half-shekel. This teaches us that every Jew is equally important.

Thank You for Both a Lot and a Little
I’d like to take this opportunity to thank all of you – benevolent souls, who donated so generously to Midreshet B’erot Bat Ayin, during my recent North America tour. I know you all gave whatever you could and I’m very appreciative. Some of you donated money. Others provided comfortable accommodations, and still others fed me healthy greens. Some of you opened your home to host an event and others spent your valuable time and money to help publicize my events. Many of you did all of the above. Whether you gave a lot or a little, I know that you truly gave of yourselves, and your kind gifts really count! With Hashem’s help and yours, Midreshet B’erot Bat Ayin will now be able to offer conditions that are more comfortable for all of our students.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Picking Up Hashem’s Calls even in the Taxi

Life Lessons from the Rebbetzin’s Heart - Parashat Vayikra
Heading Hashem’s Calling in Our Lives
We are called to enter the Book of Vayikra, which opens with Hashem’s calling out to Moshe. At this time, we need to become aware that we, too, are being called by Hashem, Who desires to communicate with all of His children. G-d’s call to us is not on the same level as the direct call that Moshe received. However, we need to open ourselves to listen to the more subtle calls in our lives, such as hearing certain lyrics from a song on the radio, reminding us to be more forgiving, or perhaps we just ‘happen’ to bump into the person to whom we had thought to apologize. Certain problems or ailments that people experience could be a wake-up call from Hashem. Rashi contrasts the word in Hebrew that describes how Hashem called Moshe וַיִּקְרָא/Vayikra, with the word describing how Hashem addressed Bilam, the non-Jewish prophet, with the word, וַיִּקְר/vayikar. Hashem called Moshe intentionally, with the letter א/alef that represents the oneness of Hashem. However, when G-d spoke to Bilam, the א/alef was missing which indicates a less intentional communication, similar to the Hebrew word מִקְרָה/mikrah, which means ‘chance.’ We are fortunate that Hashem always relates to us – the descendants of Ya’acov, through Divine Supervision. It is our call to heighten the awareness of Hashem’s supervision in our lives, by allowing ourselves to see and hear His messages. Rebbetzin Jungreis calls to our attention that we recite the bracha, “…Hamechin mitzadei gever… –Who prepares the footsteps of man,” every morning. Most people have difficulty discerning Hashem’s call to us, since His communications are hidden behind many veils. Yet, if we allow ourselves to see and hear the Divine messages to us, we will be able to detect the Divine design guiding the happenings of our daily lives.

Happenstance or Divine Supervision in the Purim Story?
The story of Purim teaches us that all the instances that could seem like coincidences are in reality intentional events, called into being by no other than the Almighty. For example, the fact that Esther was chosen by Achasverush to become his new queen was not by accident, but Hashem’s way of preparing the healing before the wound of Haman’s decree. Mordechai heard Hashem’s calling and said, “It can’t be that this righteous woman would be taken to sleep with an uncircumcised person, except that in the future, she will arise to save Israel” (Rashi, Megillat Esther 2:11). Other seeming coincidences in the Purim story include when Mordechai just ‘happened’ to be around to hear the king’s bodyguards plan to assassinate Achasverus, and that Esther just ‘happened’ to report this in Mordechai’s name, even though Mordechai had not commanded her to do so. When later, the king had a hard time falling asleep and asked for his Chronicles, he just ‘happened’ to read about how Mordechai saved his life, which was at that very same moment that Haman knocked on the door to request to hang Mordechai.

Divine Providence of Finding the Perfect Divine Providence Story
It is not coincidental that we read Parashat Vayikra that teaches us about Divine Providence right before Purim.

ספר ויקרא פרק א (א) וַיִּקְרָא אֶל משֶׁה וַיְדַבֵּר הָשֵׁם אֵלָיו מֵאֹהֶל מוֹעֵד לֵאמֹר:
“Hashem called out to Moshe and spoke to him at from the Tent of Meeting saying” (Vayikra 1:1).

All oral communications of Hashem to Moshe were preceded by a call. It is the way of expressing affection, and the mode used by the ministering angels when addressing each other, as it states, “One called to the other and said, ‘Holy, holy holy is Hashem of hosts.’” In contrast, to the prophets of the nations of the world, Hashem revealed Himself in a manner which Scripture describes by an expression ordinarily used for denoting events of casual character and uncleanliness, as it states, “ G-d happened to meet Bilam” (Bamidbar 23:4). The term וַיִּקְר/vayikar from the root קרה is connected with מִקְרָה/mikra, which denotes chance occurrence and has also the meaning of uncleanliness (Devarim 22:11)… (Rashi, Vayikra 1:1).

Inspired by Rashi’s commentary on the first verse of the Book of Vayikra, I was planning to write about hashgacha pratit (Divine Supervision) in my personal life. Although my entire life is bursting with Divine Providence, at the moment, I wasn’t able to recall even one good example, being under pressure planning my annual North America tour. What do writers do when they have nothing to write? We google! So I googled ‘hasgacha pratit stories,’ and by amazing Divine Supervision, I came across an article by Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis, about an extraordinary Divinely ordained story that just ‘happened’ to also relate to one of the lectures I am giving on my current tour about the importance of your Hebrew name. Not only did Hashem, via google, provide me with a phenomenal story to share with you here, it is, moreover, a story that brings home the point of my lecture: ‘Your Name Calls Out the Essence of Your Soul’ in a most poignant way.

Three Taxi Divinely Ordained Stories
A mother was taking her eight-year-old son, Yedidya, to his first visit at the orthodontist and had to fill out a form. Yedidya usually carries his name proudly – Yedid-Ya, which literally translated, means ‘friend of G-d.’ However, this time, to avoid all the fuss his Jewish name evoked, Yedidya whispered, “Mommy, just write down my English name, ‘Jed’” On the way home in the taxi, his mother just ‘happened’ to look at the taxi driver’s name-card, and couldn’t believe her eyes when she read the name: ‘Yedidya’ in big and bold letters! At first, she thought she must have read wrong, but after she looked again, and again, it was clear that there was no mistake. “How did you get the name, Yedidya?” she asked the driver. “My parents gave it to me,” he explained, “but in Russia, we were not permitted to use our Jewish names, so when I immigrated to America, I promised myself that in this country of religious freedom, I would proudly proclaim that my name is Yedidya and that I am Jewish.” What amazing Divine Providence. What are the chances of finding a Jewish taxi driver in Manhattan called Yedidya? Could any parent, rabbi or teacher give a better lesson to her son, who just an hour ago was uncomfortable with his Jewish name, Yedidya? From that moment on, he never again used his English name, Jed. Isn’t this awesome hashgacha pratit? On top of that, the very next time Yedidya’s twin-brother Ya’acov was in a taxi with his mom, the driver ‘happened’ to be called Ya’acov, not Jacob, but the Hebrew version Ya’acov! Surely, Hashem was orchestrating this from Above. What gave this family the merit to have two consecutive taxi-driver Divine Providence stories happen?

Rebbetzin Jungreis related that several years earlier, when the father of the twins had just begun to keep the Torah, during a special Jewish heritage trip to Eastern Europe; he was wearing his very first kipah. On the way back to the hotel, the father forgot his kipah in the taxi. Although, he also forgot his very expensive international phone there, it was his kipah that he ran after. He chased after the taxi like a marathon runner, while calling out to the driver to stop. When the father opened the door of the cab, he recovered his dear yarmulke. This story is a remarkable example of how Hashem rewarded the father’s Jewish pride, which was expressed through a taxi, by strengthening his sons in their Jewish pride through extraordinary Divine Supervision in two taxis! Moreover, isn’t it amazing hasgacha pratit, how Hashem sent this story to my hands in perfect time to be able to share it in Seattle, Baltimore and on our Emunahealing Retreat in the Berkshires? Hope to see you there!

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Tribal Gemstones

Life Lessons from the Rebbetzin’s Heart - Parashat Pekudei

My ‘New’ Engagement Ring
A couple of years ago the precious diamond in my engagement ring fell out of its setting. I don’t know how it happened. One day I felt my ring scratching my finger in a strange way. Then I looked shocked at the gaping empty setting and began to panic. Although I turned the house upside down in my search, I never recovered the diamond. I don’t even want to think about how much of a financial loss this was. Rather, I have worked on accepting it as a kapara – an atonement for my many misdoings. We all prefer to lose ‘dead things’ and keep our loved ones and our health. Yet, as the years passed, I never got used to the empty space on my finger where the engagement ring used to shine. For our 35th anniversary, Rosh Chodesh Adar Alef, my husband dragged me to celebrate in town. We had brought the empty setting of the engagement ring with us, as my wish was to replace the sparkling diamond with a blue sapphire. It is not that I desire expensive jewelry. It is more the sentimental value of wanting to wear the ring that ties me to my husband, strengthening all the dimensions of our relationship. Jewelry holds energy and captures the essence of those who wear it. This is why a divorced woman must get rid of all jewelry gifts given by her X, in order to free herself from his energy and become open to a new and lasting relationship. Feeling the tug of my ‘new’ engagement ring on my finger, while separated from my husband by my annual North American tour, I experience love and longing toward him. There is something even more special about engagement than marriage. Engagement is about longing, yearning and looking forward to marital fulfillment. It is important to keep the energy of engagement in our marriages, especially when circumstances sometimes separate us temporarily.

The Precious Stones on Aharon’s Heart
The reason I wanted to replace my diamond with a sapphire was not just because it would be less than a 10th of the cost. First of all, I love the deep, blue, mysterious color of sapphires – like the color of the sky at the beginning of night when the stars wake up. Moreover, the sapphire represents Torah, as the Tablets of the Ten Commandments were carved from sapphire (Rashi, Shemot 34:1). This stone corresponds to the tribe of Yissaschar, who represents Torah and wisdom (Malbim, Yesha’yahu 54:12). Aharon, the Kohen Gadol would wear a special square-shaped breastplate on his heart filled with twelve stones, each representing one of the twelve tribes of Israel. This garment is called the choshen mishpat in Hebrew, which means the “breastplate of judgment” because of the unique role that it played in helping to render fateful decisions. The breastplate consisted of four rows, each containing three, small, square stones in a setting of gold. The name of the corresponding tribe was engraved on each stone. Special segulot (spiritual properties) are ascribed to each of these stones. The healing properties of stones or crystals is widely known in the new age world. For example, it is known, to wear a rose quartz to attract love and use an onyx for protection. It may be less known that the source of the spiritual properties of various stones or crystals is found in the Torah commentaries on the stones of Aharon’s breastplate.

The Stones Corresponding to each of the Tribes in Order of their Birth
This week’s parasha, which summarizes all the materials used for the Tabernacle, and the garments of the Kohanim, repeats almost word for word the description of the breastplate first given in Parashat Tetzaveh, Shemot 28:17-21.

ספר שמות פרק לט
(י) וַיְמַלְאוּ בוֹ אַרְבָּעָה טוּרֵי אָבֶן טוּר אֹדֶם פִּטְדָה וּבָרֶקֶת הַטּוּר הָאֶחָד: (יא) וְהַטּוּר הַשֵּׁנִי נֹפֶךְ סַפִּיר וְיַהֲלֹם: (יב) וְהַטּוּר הַשְּׁלִישִׁי לֶשֶׁם שְׁבוֹ וְאַחְלָמָה: (יג) וְהַטּוּר הָרְבִיעִי תַּרְשִׁישׁ שֹׁהַם וְיָשְׁפֶה מוּסַבֹּת מִשְׁבְּצֹת זָהָב בְּמִלֻּאֹתָם: (יד) וְהָאֲבָנִים עַל שְׁמֹת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל הֵנָּה שְׁתֵּים עֶשְׂרֵה עַל שְׁמֹתָם פִּתּוּחֵי חֹתָם אִישׁ עַל שְׁמוֹ לִשְׁנֵים עָשָׂר שָׁבֶט:
“They set in it four rows of stones: a row of ruby, topaz, and emerald was the first row. The second row, a garnet, a sapphire, and a diamond. The third row, an opal, an agate, and an amethyst. The fourth row, a beryl (aquamarine), an onyx, and a jasper; they were enclosed in fittings of gold in their settings. The stones were according to the names of the children of Israel, twelve, according to their names, like the engravings of a signet, every one according to his name, for the twelve tribes” (Shemot 39:10-14).

The Midrash teaches us about the stones and the flags of each tribe. Can you believe that the established practice of having individualized flags representing each country derives from the flags of the tribes? “Every tribe had a flag in the color of their stone, which was on Aharon’s heart. From them the nations learned to make flags with the individual colors for each tribe similar to the color of his stone” (Midrash Bamidbar Rabbah 2:7). Based on this Midrash, Rashi explains that the order of the stones are according to the order of their birth, ruby for Reuven, topaz for Shimon and likewise with all of them (Rashi, Shemot 28:21). A support for Rashi’s explanation is, “They called Leshem Dan after the name of Dan their father… (Yehoshua 19:47) because the name of Dan is written on the opal.” (Rashi, Shoftim 18:27). If the stones are assigned to tribes according to the order of the birth of the mothers, Leah, Bilha, Zilpa, Rachel, then we arrive at the name Dan for the opal (Chizkuni, Shemot 28:21).

The Twelve Foundational Root Stones
Whereas  each crystal comes in many different colors, the midrash informs us that the particular colors of each tribes’ stone was reflected in their flag: “Reuven’s stone was ruby and his flag was red… Shimon’s stone was topaz, and his flag was green… Levi’s stone was emerald and his flag was colored one third white, one third black and one third red and a picture of the Urim and Tumim was on it. Yehuda‘s stone was garnet and the color of his flag was like the sky with a picture of a lion. Yissaschar’s stone was sapphire, and the color of his flag was dark blue with a picture of the sun and the moon, as it states, “From the sons of Yissaschar who know the times” (I Divrei Hayamim 12). Zevulun’s stone was a diamond, and the color of his flag was white with a picture of a boat, as it states, “Zevulun to the seashore” (Bereishit 49:13). Dan’s stone was opal and the color of his flag was similar to the sapphire… Gad’s stone was an agate and the color of his flag was a mixture of black and white… Naftali’s stone was the amethyst and the color of his flag was similar to clear wine… Asher’s stone was aquamarine, and the color of his flag was similar to a precious stone that women decorate themselves with… Yosef’s stone was onyx, and the color of his flag was very black… Binyamin’s stone was a jasper and the color of his flag was similar to all the colors of the 12 tribes…” (Midrash Bamidbar Rabbah 2:7). Rabbeinu Bachaya explains that according to natural science, there are exactly twelve main root stones, which are the sources and fathers of all other stones. “All other stones derive from these” (Rabbeinu Bachaya, Shemot 28:15). He continues to go into the healing properties of each of the twelve stones, which I have translated and summarized for you below. I have added general knowledge of the healing properties of each stone only when it coincides with Rabbeinu Bachaya’s commentary.

1. Reuven’s Fertility Stone
Reuven’s stone was a Ruby – אוֹדֶם/Odem, a very red, blood-colored stone, as its name testifies. When worn by a pregnant woman, the ruby prevents miscarriage. It is also known as the fertility stone. It is highly recommended for women who wish to become pregnant, especially when ground into powder and mixed with food and drink. It eases pregnancy and keeps the mother and fetus healthy. Many women with fertility problems finally became pregnant when wearing a ruby (best worn as a ring or bracelet). Even women who have been through unsuccessful medical fertility treatments, finally conceived by holding the Ruby during the treatment. The ruby is also beneficial for women in difficult labor.

2. Shimon’s Cooling Stone
Shimon’s stone was a Topaz – פִּטְדָה/pit’da, a shiny green stone, the color of the pools of the ocean. The Topaz cools down the body from excessive heat. Therefore, this stone is found in Africa where it is very hot and the people are hot-blooded and need to be cooled down.

3. Levi’s Wisdom Stone
Levi’s stone was an Emerald – בָרֶקֶת/bareket, a multicolored illuminating stone. It is the stone that Noach hung in the Ark for light. It was given to Levi because this tribe illuminates through the Torah. Among its properties, the topaz causes wisdom and illuminates the eyes, if used the same way the light of the candle is used. When ground up and mixed with food and drink it is very beneficial for engendering wisdom and opening the heart. It increases the ability of self-expression and strengthens the heart.

4. Yehuda’s War-Victory Stone
Yehuda’s stone was a Garnet – נוֹפֶךְ/nofech, a glittering green stone, the color of leeks. It chases away enemies, makes them turn their backs, and thus causes victory in war. It strengthens self-confidence. The garnet is known as the stone of commitment because it strengthens determination and devotion to a cause or goal, to other people and to self-obligation. It relieves shoulder and back pains. In case of backache, it is recommended to paste a number of small stones on the painful area. For shoulder pain, wear it in a necklace.

5. Yissaschar’s Illuminating, Pain-relieving Stone
Yissaschar’s stone was a Sapphire – סַפִּיר/sapir, the color of techelet (sky-blue). The masters of Torah are known to be bound with the bundle of life under the throne of glory made from sapphire, as it states, “The appearance of the sapphire resembles the throne (Yechezkiel 1:26). This sky-blue color is not the color of arrogance like red or green. Rather, it is the color of humility- good for young as well as old people. The sapphire strengthens the light of the eyes. Therefore, it is good to pass it over the eyes. It also helps counteract pain and swelling any place in the body. Likewise, the Torah heals the entire body, as our sages said, “If his body hurts he should occupy himself with Torah” (Iruvin 54a). Kings wore the sapphire stone in order to protect them from jealousy and injury. The sapphire improves ones mood and relieves pressure. It increases intuition and creates balance, wisdom and stability. One who wears it will talk from within, with higher, inner wisdom.

6. Zevulun’s Business Stone
Zevulun’s stone was a Diamond – יַהֲלֹם/yahalom, white as silver, a sign of wealth. It was given to Zevulun, who was a merchant, as it causes success in business transactions. It also counteracts insomnia and brings about sleep.

7. Dan’s Sensitivity Stone
Dan’s stone was an Opal – לֶשֶׁם/leshem. Rabbeinu Bachaya doesn’t have much to say about this stone so I will bring general knowledge about it. It strengthens the awareness of feelings and intuition. However, if you are not sure of yourself or your judgment, the opal might increase this feeling and cause stress. For this reason, the opal is not recommended for young people who are generally more sensitive. Since the opal causes expression of inner feelings, it may cause physical or mental unease for those who repress their feelings. For those who are open and assertive, this stone will provide happiness, joy, perseverance and confidence. When a person is ill, the color of the opal may change.

8. Naftali’s Driving Stone
Naftali’s stone was a Turquoise (Agate) – שְׁבוֹ/shavo. This stonehelps a person remain seated when riding (driving) and helps him succeed in driving all of his life. Since it connects him to his chariot, it was given to Naftali whose name means connection (Bereishit 30:8). A balancing stone, it is particularly suited for those who use logic more than intuition. It strengthens motoric abilities and aligns the body with the brain. It provides the sensation of courage and strength.

9. Gad’s Courage Stone
Gad’s stone was an Amethyst –אַחְלָמָה/achlama. It strengthens the heart and provides courage. Therefore, it is called achlama from the language of recovery and strength. It eases fears, provides a sense of courage, intuition and creativity. It may help those who do not sleep well and decrease nightmares.

10. Asher’s Digestion Stone
Asher’s stone was an Aquamarine, (Beryl) – תַּרְשִׁישׁ/tarshis, a turquoise sea colored stone. The aquamarine is beneficial for digestion, especially when ground up and mixed with food until it becomes a thick mixture. As it states, “From Asher, his bread is fat” (Bereishit 49:20). The aquamarine flows as water and therefore may help with the flow of life.

11. Yosef’s Success Stone
Yosef’s stone was a very black Onyx – שׁוֹהַם/Shoham. In Hebrew, this stone includes the letters that spell out the name of G-d, הָשֵׁם/Hashem, because “Hashem was with Yosef, and he was a man of success, and He gave him grace in the eyes of the jail keeper” (Bereishit 39:2). The property of the onyx is to bring grace. It is beneficial for finding favor in the eyes of all the people we meet. It is good to wear an onyx in the royal house. It will bring success and cause your word to be heeded. The onyx balances male/female polarity, increases hormonal balance and self-control. It strengthens the ability to distinguish correctly and objectively and make intelligent decisions.

12. Binyamin’s Self-Awareness Stone
Binyamin’s stone was a Jasper – יָשְׁפֶה/yaspeh, which may be red, black or green. The Jasper is good to stop bleeding and it was given to Binyamin because his heart changed to many nuances and he thought many thoughts regarding the sale of Yosef- whether to tell his father about it or not. In the end, he overcame his urge and didn’t reveal the matter to his father. The name of this stone is contracted from two Hebrew words יש פה/yesh peh – there is a mouth. This alludes to Binyamin’s virtue that although he had a mouth, he remained silent and didn’t reveal the sale of Yosef. Jasper helps unite the subconscious with self-awareness. It affects the abdominal area and may relieve pain. 

Channeling Hashem’s Upper Power
“The stones need purity. If an impure person wears them, their power will be nullified or weakened. When the person purifies himself, the stone he wears will regain its original power. The reason for this is that the upper power that the stone draws from depends on the spiritual level. This power cleaves to purity but distances itself from impurity. It is proper to believe thus, for there is no single stone of these precious stones which do not draw from the Upper power. The same way it says about the herbs ‘There is no herb below that doesn’t have a spiritual constellation above’ (Midrash Bereishit Rabbah 10:6); (Rabbeinu Bachaya, Shemot 28:15). I found it very interesting that Torah commentaries agree that gemstones have healing properties. Thus, it is possible to be a Torah person and to use such stones for healing. However, when working with gemstones it is important to keep reminding ourselves that the stones have no powers or energy on their own. They only channel Hashem’s healing power. Each stone attracts particular lights of healing from Above, similar to herbs that Hashem imbued with the power to channel Divine healing energy. Mazal tov! May we all merit to wear our jewelry in good health!

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Shabbat Guides for the Meticulous Woman

Life Lessons from the Rebbetzin’s Heart - Parashat Vayakhel

Entering a State of Being Rather than Doing on Shabbat
I’m sitting here again glued to my computer looking forward to Shabbat. Every night, it takes so much self-discipline to go to sleep, as there is always another email to write, a contact to update, a file to save, a photo to file and a sentence to complete before turning off the computer. If it wasn’t for Shabbat, I don’t know when I would ever read a real book, where you turn actual white pages with black letters and inhale the slightly distinct scent of each particular book. It seems like our lives are becoming gradually more and more electronic. When did we last have a weekday conversation with anyone without an interruption by a message ping on the smart phone? Social media messaging, somehow, succeed to trap us in its network. The more my time goes into I-phone, You-tube, Facebook, and Google Groups, the more I treasure my social-media free Shabbat. During nine months of the year on Shabbat, you will find me on my lounge chair, soaking up the light of the Torah in the sun. When the cold winter winds keep me indoors, I make do with the living room couch. The Torah obviously anticipated our virtual age when prohibiting מְלָאכָה/melacha – creative work, rather than just mere עֲבוֹדָה/avodah – work, on Shabbat. It is not physical toil that we must refrain from on Shabbat, but rather actions that cause a change in reality, and even in the virtual reality. Therefore, we dedicate one day a week on Shabbat where we abstain from creative work in order to remind ourselves that only Hashem is the ultimate Creator. Although sending an SMS or email takes no physical labor, one such message can completely change a person’s life and thus effect all of reality. Therefore, we welcome a virtual and electronic device free Shabbat – the day when we rest from creative work and enter the state of being rather than doing.

Must We Abstain from Maintaining Order in Our Home on Shabbat?
Parashat Vayakhel opens with the command to keep Shabbat and the prohibition to engage in creative work and the subsequent punishment for desecrating the Shabbat:

ספר שמות פרק לה (ב) שֵׁשֶׁת יָמִים תֵּעָשֶׂה מְלָאכָה וּבַיּוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי יִהְיֶה לָכֶם קֹדֶשׁ שַׁבַּת שַׁבָּתוֹן לַהָשֵׁם כָּל הָעֹשֶׂה בוֹ מְלָאכָה יוּמָת: (ג) לֹא תְבַעֲרוּ אֵשׁ בְּכֹל משְׁבֹתֵיכֶם בְּיוֹם הַשַּׁבָּת:
“Six days work may be done, but on the seventh day you shall have a holy Shabbat of complete rest – a Shabbat to Hashem. Whoever does any creative work on it shall be put to death. You shall kindle no fire throughout your settlements on the Shabbat day” (Shemot 35:2).

The juxtaposition between the obligation to keep Shabbat and the building of the Tabernacle teaches us that the works we must abstain from on Shabbat are those needed for building the Tabernacle (Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 49b). The ultimate creative work is the work of building the home for Hashem that changes all reality, returning world peace and prophecy to Israel. It should be noted that the creative works prohibited on Shabbat relate to only the building of the Tabernacle/Temple and not to maintaining the order of the sacrifices that continued daily after it was built. Perhaps we can draw the following parallel: while we may not engage in building a house on Shabbat, certain acts for the sake of maintaining order in the home on Shabbat are permitted.

Don’t Use the Holy Shabbat to Prepare for the Week
The Jewish home is compared to a miniature Temple. To what degree are we permitted to maintain the order and cleanliness of our home during the Shabbat? Much is written about what we can’t do on Shabbat. I’d like to share with you what you can do on Shabbat to keep your home nice and neat in honor of Shabbat even when you host many Shabbat guests, including children. The general rule is that we may not use the holy Shabbat day to prepare for the week. This would take us out of the state of ‘being’ required on the Shabbat. Therefore, in general, we are not supposed to do anything on Shabbat that is not necessary for Shabbat itself, such as cleaning dishes that are not necessary for the subsequent Shabbat meals. So what can we do to keep our home together on Shabbat itself, when dishes pile up, crumbs are all over the floor and the ants are feasting? Moreover, for some of us who are meticulous about keeping our homes clean and neat, a pile of dirty dishes and a messy table disturbs our Shabbat peace.

Do Our Dishes have to Pile up on Shabbat?
Rabbi Nouwirth understood us, organized, orderly women well. He ruled that we may remove dishes from the table following the third Shabbat meal in order for the room to look neat and orderly, since this is not considered a necessity of Motzei Shabbat; if we desire that the room looks organized on Shabbat itself (Sefer Shemirat Shabbat Ke’Hilchata, Chapter 19). In regards to doing dishes, Hagaon Harav Waldenberg zt”l explains that since the reason for the prohibition of washing dishes on Shabbat is to prevent preparing for the days following Shabbat, therefore, washing dishes for the sake of Shabbat itself is permitted. If we want dishes to be clean on Shabbat for hygienic purposes, it is permissible to wash dishes in a hospital even on Shabbat (Responsa Tzitz Eliezer14:37). Similarly, Hagaon Harav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt”l writes that we may wash soiled dishes on Shabbat if we are unable to handle a mess, have ants in the home that are attracted to the leftover food, or are worried that guests will arrive and find the house looking unorganized. None of these reasons are considered preparing for after Shabbat, but rather, for the sake of Shabbat itself (Sefer Shulchan Shlomo, Chapter 323). (Maran Shlit”a quotes all of this in his Sefer Chazon Ovadia). In addition, you never know how many dishes you might need on Shabbat for unexpected guests. That’s probably why there is a halachic opinion that we may wash even twenty bowls on Shabbat, even if we only need one of them (Sefer Minhagei Ha’Maharash, end of Chapter 394). So now, after each Shabbat meal, I feel guilt-free when I wash all my dishes as long as I use only cold water and a non-absorbent dish-brush rather than a sponge. Since using a sponge or a washcloth invariably involves squeezing them to the point, where water is expelled it transgresses the prohibition against pressing (out liquid) on Shabbat (Sefer Shemirat Shabbat Ke’Hilchata, Part 1, Chapter 12:15).

Do our Tablecloths Need to Remain Filthy on Shabbat?
How may I then clean our tablecloth on Shabbat? Since there is no permitted may to clean wine and oil stains etc. from any absorbent cloth material on Shabbat and it would disturb my Shabbat peace to discover such stains, I use a transparent a plastic non-absorbent tablecloth covering on Shabbat. To clean a plastic tablecloth or oilcloth on Shabbat follow these three steps:

1. Take a hand squeegee and collect all the crumbs, wiping them into the chicken food or compost bin.
2. Use a dish-brush with adequate liquid soap to clean away all spots.
3. Dry the tablecloth from soap residue and moisture with a dry rag or napkin.

Part of these steps may be used to clean anything that spilled anywhere on Shabbat, like on the countertop or floor. If a lot of liquid like grape-juice or wine spilled on the table, simply use the hand squeegee to collect all the liquid into a bowl. Use last year’s dish-brush as a floor-brush to scrub ugly stains clean from the marble floor and then wipe the liquid with a dry cloth.

Folding Laundry on Shabbat
Can you imagine the following scenario? You are rushing to finish all your chores in time for Shabbat, when your yeshiva-bachur son comes home Friday afternoon with three weeks’ worth of laundry. You have just emptied the second batch from your dryer into the laundry basket before rushing to light the Shabbat candles. May you fold the laundry and put it away? This is allowed if the basket of unfolded laundry bothers your Shabbat peace and the clothes were mostly dry when Shabbat began (Sefer Shemirat Shabbat Ke’Hilchata, Part 1, Chapter 15:17). While you may not fold the kind of laundry that have clearly defined creases such as men’s pants, it is allowed to fold laundry without creases such as underwear and T-shirts (Sefer Shemirat Shabbat Ke’Hilchata, Part 1, Chapter15:46). Sorting clothes into piles is forbidden. Therefore, you need to put away each item of clothing piece by piece, as it comes to your hand. The same applies to putting dishes and silverware away from dishracks (Sefer Shemirat Shabbat Ke’Hilchata, Part 1, Chapter 3:79, 82).

Upside-Down Tablecloths
Sometimes, Friday night we host a nice group of students and enlarge our table, using a different tablecloth. After the meal, we minimize the table again for the next day intimate meal for just my husband and I, and we put back the regular tablecloth. Now what to do with the large tablecloth, which does have clearly defined creases? Do I need to scrunch up the tablecloth in some corner, waiting for Motzei Shabbat to fold it properly and put it away in the closet? While this may be the ruling of some Rabbis (Chaye Adam 44:24), others are lenient and allow folding these creases, since they are not present when the tablecloth is in use, (Kaf HaChayim 32, Aruch HaShulchan 302:12). I have a great patent for folding tablecloths on Shabbat that considers both opinions. I simply fold the tablecloth inversely so that its creases go inside out.

Making a Bed on Shabbat
If a bed stands in a room where there are people are and it is improper for the bed to be disorganized, you may re place the linens and blankets on the bed even though you have no intention of sleeping in the bed on Shabbat (Magen Avraham, Chapter 302). The Mishnah Berura agrees. Based on this, it is certainly permissible to make a bed that already has linens on it on Shabbat in order to make it look presentable as long as you do it for cleanliness and order in honor of Shabbat (Sefer Shemirat Shabbat Ke’Hilchata, Part 1, Chapter 24:25).

The Unlimited Blessings of Taking Delight in Shabbat
These are a few tips for the neat-freaks among us, about how to keep our home together on Shabbat. However, if unfolded laundry and dirty dishes don’t usually bother you during the week, then some of these leniencies may not apply to you. A good rule of thumb is, “when in doubt- leave it out,” until you ask your Rabbi. Shabbat is a special gift for to the Jewish people (Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 10b). No matter which housework you may do on Shabbat, don’t overdo it! Allow yourself to appreciate this holy gift and enjoy the special Shabbat time to thoroughly rest and renew yourself spiritually, as the prophet proclaims:

“If you restrain your foot because of the Shabbat, from pursuing your business on my holy day; and call the Shabbat a delight, the holy day of Hashem honorable; and honor it, not doing your own ways, nor pursuing your own business, nor speaking of vain matters. Then you shall delight yourself in Hashem; and I will cause you to ride upon the high places of the earth, and feed you with the heritage of Ya’acov your father. For the mouth of Hashem has spoken it” (Yesha’ahu 58:14 -15).

“Whoever takes delight in Shabbat is given a heritage without limits and will be granted all his heart’s desires” (Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 118b).