Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Past Life Regression and Korach’s Soul Rectification

Life Lessons from the Rebbetzin’s Heart - Parashat Korach
The Soul’s Journey toward Ultimate Repair
Sometimes things happen between people that are difficult to understand. The intensity of our own reactions and feelings may be unfathomable even to ourselves. Regular therapy does not go deep enough to unravel the mysteries of our lives’ suffering, interpersonal conflicts, tests and tribulations. Would any therapist have been able to alleviate Korach of his passionate jealousy toward Moshe and Aharon whom were chosen for greater leadership than him? Was there then no hope for Korach to rectify himself and overcome his jealousy to become happy with this lot in life? Even when we are unable to pass the tests that Hashem sends us in life for our soul rectification, we always receive another chance to rectify it, whether in this lifetime or in the next. Often, the unresolved issues are passed on to the next generation who then get a chance to bring about ultimate retroactive repair (Arizal, Sha’ar HaMitzvot, Parashat Yitro). Arizal teaches that our soul reincarnates until it has rectified the Ten Sefirot of each of the three first soul levels: Neshamah, Ruach and Nefesh. Learning about the cosmic journey of the soul helps us gain awareness of the spiritual levels between Heaven and Earth. Being mindful of these levels enables us to transcend the physical bounds of the moment and detach from our current obsession so that we gain clarity and greater perspective. Furthermore, the topic of soul-reincarnation inspires us with the awe of G-d and the deepest yearning for rectifying our own souls through Torah and Mitzvot. I have always been attracted to the mystical realms and especially fascinated by the topic of soul reincarnations. Over the years, I have researched the reincarnations of women in the Bible and am mind boggled by Arizal’s teachings which reveal the linguistic parallels between characters in the Torah who are reincarnations of each other. Yet, only recently did I, myself, experience and became enthralled with past life regressions. By meditating, I was able to journey back to prior reincarnations. Through this, I gained more clarity of recent conflicts with specific people in my life, than I believe could ever be achieved by a lifetime of therapy.

Crying from the Depths of the Hole in My Heart
About a year ago, I tried past life regression through a free recording offered by Hay House. It was very powerful and affected me deeply. I never got a chance to write down the different steps, so I thought that I had forgotten how to do it- until the other night, when I was so greatly bothered by an emotional conflict with a person very dear to me that I was unable to sleep. For a long time, I couldn’t understand where the person was coming from. She seemed so cold and unloving, that I felt harshly rejected. Yet, at the same time, I felt her love in other ways. I also couldn’t understand myself, as to why I reacted so strongly and went into such a state of literally mourning. I cried myself to sleep every single night for many months. The fact that she was not there for me when I needed her the most, still didn’t explain why this caused me to cry for hours every day for more than half a year, until I was unable to go on with my life. I couldn’t understand my deep need for compassion, especially from this person. I asked myself, where is this deep hole in my heart that needs to be filled up coming from?

Meditating My Way Back to Past Life Regression
So, on this particular night, instead of tossing and turning in my bed, I asked Hashem to take me back to a prior life that could shed light on my overreaction. I used the technique I had learned through the recording by Mira Kelley. I started meditating by breathing and feeling lifted above time and space, seeing the globe of the world become smaller and smaller, and visualizing being carried by angel wings to a faraway place and time. Then, I was gradually seeing the globe getting bigger and bigger before gently landing on a particular place looking down at my feet to see what I was wearing. I saw myself as a barefoot child, perhaps 10-12 years old trying to keep myself alive in a river. I wish I could tell you more but it is all too personal and not suitable for this forum. What I can share is that I returned from my past life regression with a deep understanding of my own reactions and that of the other person involved. Amazingly, my heartache was totally gone. I no longer had this deep need for compassion and the hole in my heart was completely healed. My past life experience brought me the perspective which allowed me to let go of the pain of being personally rejected. It was because I could now understand so deeply where the other person was coming from and how part of her rectification was to act the way she did, that I was able to release my personal pain.

Releasing Pain through Gaining Perspective
In trying to understand how it could be that just a short fleeting glimpse of a prior reincarnation, lasting less than a minute, can cause such a cathartic experience I came up with the following explanation. Great pain, whether physical or emotional, fills every fiber of our being and makes it nearly impossible to detach from our personal situation to gain a greater perspective. You can’t tell someone who feels like she is being stabbed with a knife, “Just let go of the pain. No one can hurt you, unless you allow them. Any pain that you feel is your own problem. Don’t expect anything from anyone else.” Suffering great pain causes us to see only one small point – perhaps just one pixel – one drop in the ocean of the situation. On the other hand, a true vision from a new angle lifts us up from our personal quandary and from the fixation with our own pain. We learn to understand that whatever the other person did to us, they were driven to doing in dealing with their own problems and not as a personal assault on ourselves. It no longer matters whether the person actually wronged us or not, as long as we understand how her reactions are spurred by her own internal struggle rather than being directed at us. This principle is also the secret of the mitzvah to judge others with the benefit of the doubt (Vayikra 19:15). This is one of the hardest mitzvot to practice because it is so difficult to detach from our personal hurt and allow ourselves to perceive the matter from the other person’s perspective. It is very difficult for anyone from the outside- whether a therapist, family member or a friend- to lift us out of our pain by trying to help us gain a new vantage point. Yet, a past life regression shows us a new perspective from the inside – from our own personal experience in a prior lifetime. When we experience a different place within our soul, we no longer have to be stuck within the suffering of our current situation.

Korach’s Jealousy Derived from the Jealousy of the First Brother in the World
There are many Jewish sources dealing with soul reincarnation, called gilgul haneshamot – literally the recycling or transmigration of souls, to be found in the Zohar and especially in the writings of the Arizal, not only in his well-known book Sha’ar HaGilgulim – The Gate of Reincarnations, but also in his commentary on the Torah. I have gleaned a few insights from several of his books regarding Korach’s reincarnations mainly from Sefer HaLikutim, Parashat Korach and Sha’ar HaPesukim, Parashat Bereishit 4. According to the Arizal, Korach’s jealousy of Moshe was so deep because it emanated from the jealousy of the very first brother in the world. Korach was a soul reincarnation from Kayin, while Moshe was the reincarnation of Hevel, his brother. Allusions to these soul-incarnations are found through several parallels between their stories through identical numerical values and similar language, as I will share with you regarding Korach and his first incarnation as Kayin.

Parallels between Kayin and Korach His Soul Reincarnation
The root of Kayin’s jealousy was that Hashem didn’t accept his offering:
ספר בראשית פרק ד (ה) וְאֶל קַיִן וְאֶל מִנְחָתוֹ לֹא שָׁעָה וַיִּחַר לְקַיִן מְאֹד וַיִּפְּלוּ פָּנָיו:

“But unto Kayin and to his offering He did not show favor. Thus Kayin felt very upset, and his countenance fell” (Bereishit 4:5).

Similarly, Hashem did not accept the offering of Korach when he and his congregation were offering incense on their firepans to test whether Hashem would choose their offering or that of Moshe and Aharon:

במדבר טז (יח) וַיִּקְחוּ אִישׁ מַחְתָּתוֹ וַיִּתְּנוּ עֲלֵיהֶם אֵשׁ וַיָּשִׂימוּ עֲלֵיהֶם קְטֹרֶת וַיַּעַמְדוּ פֶּתַח אֹהֶל מוֹעֵד וּמֹשֶׁה וְאַהֲרֹן:

“They took every man his firepan, and put fire in them, and laid incense thereon, and stood at the door of the tent of meeting with Moshe and Aharon” (Bamidbar 16:18).

Arizal explains that Kayin’s soul split into three simultaneous reincarnations: His neshamah reincarnated in Yitro, his Ruach in Korach and his Nefesh in the Mitzri (Egyptian) that Moshe killed. The initials of these three יתרו/Yitro, קרח/Korach and מצרי/Mitzri is the acronym of יָּקָם/yakam, which means ‘rose up.’ This is the exact same word used when Kayin “rose up” to kill Hevel:

ספר בראשית פרק ד (ט) ...וַיָּקָם קַיִן אֶל הֶבֶל אָחִיו וַיַּהַרְגֵהוּ:

“Kayin rose up against Hevel his brother and killed him” (Bereishit 4:9).

This same word וַיָּקָם/vayakam – "he rose" is furthermore used to describe Korach’s revolt:

ספר במדבר פרק טז (ב) וַיָּקֻמוּ לִפְנֵי משֶׁה...
“They rose up against Moshe… (Bamidbar 16:2)

Arizal also notes a further interesting connection. The name משֶׁה/Moshe has the numerical value of 345. This includes the 37 sparks of הֶבֶל/Hevel – his numerical value- as well as 308 additional evil sparks, which were all rectified within Moshe. These are the sparks of Kayin, which were reincarnated in קרח/Korach whose numerical value is likewise 308. Moshe’s prayer on behalf of the congregation of Israel alludes to the fact that Moshe was the reincarnation of Hevel:

ספר במדבר פרק טז (כב) ...אֵל אֱלֹהֵי הָרוּחֹת לְכָל בָּשָׂר הָאִישׁ אֶחָד יֶחֱטָא וְעַל כָּל הָעֵדָה תִּקְצֹף:

“O G-d, the G-d of spirits (haruchot of all (l’kol) flesh (basar), shall one man sin and You will get angry with the entire congregation?” (Bamidbar 16:22).

Arizal moreover explains that the reason why Korach and his congregation were swallowed up by the earth was to atone for the blood of Hevel which cried out from the earth. Therefore the same form of the word earth – הָאֲדָמָה/HaAdama is used in both instances:

ספר בראשית פרק ד (י) וַיֹּאמֶר מֶה עָשִׂיתָ קוֹל דְּמֵי אָחִיךָ צֹעֲקִים אֵלַי מִן הָאֲדָמָה:

“He said: ‘What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood cries to Me from the earth (הָאֲדָמָה/HaAdama)’” (Bereshit 4:10). 

ספר במדבר פרק טז (ל) וְאִם בְּרִיאָה יִבְרָא הָשֵׁם וּפָצְתָה הָאֲדָמָה אֶת פִּיהָ וּבָלְעָה אֹתָם…

“But if Hashem makes a new thing, and the earth (הָאֲדָמָה/HaAdama) opens her mouth, and swallows them up…” (Bamidbar 16:30).

Rectification through the Sons of Korach
So how does understanding that Korach is the reincarnation of Kayin help Korach gain rectification? Having failed the test of overcoming his reoccurring jealousy was he then doomed to eternal damnation? Everyone must eventually reach their rectification. Korach’s rectification was enacted through his sons. King David wrote eleven Tehillim (Psalms) in tribute to the sons of Korach each beginning with “For the conductor; Maskhil of the sons of Korach.” Who were these sons of Korach that somehow survived the swallowing mouth of the earth, and why would David sing praises to them?

Rashi explains that three of the sons of Korach, including Elkana, the father of Shemuel, the prophet, at first supported their father’s dispute with Moshe, but later, repented. Therefore, when the earth opened its mouth and swallowed up the sinners, a safe space for Korach’s sons remained inside of the mouth of the earth, as it states, “the sons of Korach didn’t die” (Babylonian Talmud, Megillah 14a). There, they recited songs in praise of Hashem for saving them. David HaMelech recaptured these songs in his Tehillim. The teshuvah of Korach’s sons was so intense that not only did they distance themselves from the dispute with Moshe, they moreover cleaved to Moshe and Aharon and thereby merited that Shemuel the prophet descended from them, as it states:

ספר תהילים פרק צט (ו) מֹשֶׁה וְאַהֲרֹן בְּכֹהֲנָיו וּשְׁמוּאֵל בְּקֹרְאֵי שְׁמוֹ קֹרִאים אֶל הָשֵׁם וְהוּא יַעֲנֵם:

“Moshe and Aharon among His priests, and Shemuel among them that call upon His name, did call upon Hashem and He answered them” (Tehillim 99:6); (Imrei Emet, Parashat Korach).

In the Merit of His Grandson, Shemuel the Prophet
Shemuel the Prophet was considered the equal to Moshe and Aharon (Zohar Chadash 43b). He furthermore included both Moshe’s devotion to the Divine, and Aharon’s dedication to pursue peace between people. When Chana prayed, “Hashem kills and revives; He brings down to the grave, and brings up” (I Shmuel 2:6), she prayed for Korach to rise up from the grave after the coming of Mashiach in the merit of Shemuel (Emek HaMelech 16:35). Arizal explains that the good spark of Korach reincarnated in his grandson, Shemuel (Sha’ar HaPesukim, Bereishit 4), who was instrumental in establishing the Kingdom of David, which brought unity among Israel. Shmuel was the one who, together with David, made the plans for the Temple in which the Kohanim and Levi’im worshipped in unison. Thus, Korach’s grandson Shemuel rectified Korach’s dispute and dissention and will ultimately bring about Korach’s revival from the dead. If the wicked Korach, who challenged Moshe’s leadership and instigated dispute, will ultimately become rectified, how can we despair of achieving our final soul rectification?

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Trusting in Hashem’s Protection “Under the Vine and Under the Fig-Tree”

Life Lessons from the Rebbetzin’s Heart - Parashat Shalach Lecha
Unravelling the West Bank Myth
Some people get uneasy when they find out that Midreshet B’erot Bat Ayin is located in Gush Etzion. “Isn’t that on the West Bank?” they ask nervously. I take a deep breath, while preparing myself to reveal the nature of this misnomer-a product of Arab propaganda.

The transient term ‘West Bank’ supposedly refers to the western bank of the Jordan River. The definition of a riverbank is the slopes bordering a river. How wide is a riverbank? Perhaps 1 or 2 miles? Yet this term is used today to refer to a land 35 miles wide. Topographically, this land has a range of hills some 60 miles long. It is not a bank! (Sha’i ben-Tekoa, Phantom Nation Inventing the “Palestinians” as the Obstacle to Peace p 8). Shame on 'wikitravel' when it defines “the West Bank as a territory under Israeli occupation with areas of Palestinian Autonomous Control pockmarked with Israeli military/civilian settlements in the Middle East between Israel and Jordan, to the north of the Dead Sea. It forms the larger portion of the semi-autonomous Palestinian Territories (the smaller being the Gaza Strip)…” (http://wikitravel.org/en/West_Bank). If the Biblical Judea and Samaria has to be labeled ‘territories’ they are certainly not the occupied but rather the liberated territories!

The other day, when completing the Scroll of Ruth with my students, we learned that this moving story took place in Beit-Lechem Yehuda – meaning the land of the tribe of Yehuda or Judea in English. Gush Etzion actually comprises the Biblical area of Judea where Naomi and Ruth returned to bring redemption to Israel (Ruth 1:7). “So,” I told my students, “If you hear anyone calling our area ‘West Bank’ please correct them and insist on the proper term; Judea!” I was pleased when the face of one of my students from Europe immediately lit up as she exclaimed, “This term West Bank is constantly being screamed into my ear. Next time, I will know exactly how to respond!”

Fear of the Foe
When a Jew uses Arab propaganda terminology in regards to the Land of Israel, it stems from a fear-related inferiority complex that we don’t deserve the Land of Israel. We still carry a millennia old childhood wound stemming from this week’s parasha’s sin of the Spies, who were afraid to conquer the land:

ספר במדבר פרק יג (לא) וְהָאֲנָשִׁים אֲשֶׁר עָלוּ עִמּוֹ אָמְרוּ לֹא נוּכַל לַעֲלוֹת אֶל הָעָם כִּי חָזָק הוּא מִמֶּנּוּ:
“But the men that went up with him said: ‘We are not able to go up against the people; for they are stronger than we’ (Bamidbar 13:31).

Rashi explains that the word מִמֶּנּוּ/mimenu – can also be pronounced מִמֶּנּוֹ/mimeno – than Him, implying that they were afraid that the enemy was stronger than G-d. Excessive fear and lack of self-confidence derives from a lack of trust in G-d, who gives us the strength to carry out His will. Developing emunah that Hashem miraculously returned this land to us, helps us to overcome the fear of the Spies which today translates into fear of terrorism. We have to evolve from the bent-over Jewish self-hating grasshopper mentality of the Spies and learn to “walk upright in our Land.” The Hebrew word for security – בִּיטָחוֹן/bitachon, is the same term that we use when we speak of trusting Hashem. We live in uncertain times. Regardless of location, security is simply an illusion – there are never any guarantees. The only real security we have in life is to trust in G-d’s loving hand to protect us from harm, as every day we clearly experience His miracles.

Returning to the Land of Our Goal
This year, Parasha Shelach Lecha marks 24 years since my husband and I returned to Israel after having lived for four years in the US. Upon our return, we truly experienced how Eretz Yisrael is the only place where the Torah can be observed in all of its fullness. The mitzvot performed in the Diaspora are only for practice until we can return to Israel to observe them properly (Rashi, Devarim 11:18, Ramban, Vayikra 18:25). The following teaching by Rav Kook helped us to understand the essential importance of returning to the Land:

Eretz Yisrael is not a peripheral matter, an external acquisition of the nation; it is not merely a means toward the goal of the general coalescing of the nation, nor of strengthening its material existence, nor even its spiritual” (Rav Kook, Orot 1).

Even many Torah observant Jews erroneously believe that the Land of Israel is merely a means rather than a goal, vital to our very existence. The Jewish people without the Land of Israel is a mere shadow of our inner potential. Our relationship with the Land of Israel is not based only on historical rights, or on the need for a homeland to bring our oppressed and scattered people together. The Land of Israel is not just a place where Jews can be safe after the holocaust. It is not merely a place of physical refuge for downtrodden Jews. Its purpose and justification is not a negative – to avoid or protect Jews from the enemy. Rather, this land – that Hashem granted to the descendants of Avraham, Yitzchak and Ya’acov – has its own positive and deep purpose which goes beyond serving as a means to attain spiritual heights or a place where we can do extra mitzvot. Our connection to the Land of Israel, like the connection of the soul to the body, transcends rational explanations. All the blessings which G-d sends to the world flow out of Eretz Yisrael: “The vitality of the entire world, with all of its blessings and Divine Influence –initially flow down to Tzion, and from there they are apportioned to everyone on earth” (Anaf Yosef, Yoma 54b). This blessing is only fully manifested when the Jewish nation is situated on its homeland. Concurrent with the spread of Jewish sovereignty over all parts of the Land of Israel, greater and greater Divine blessing flows into the world (Rambam, The Guide 1:8). The holiness of the land does not evolve from the mitzvot performed here. Rather, the special mitzvot pertaining only to the Land of Israel derive from the inherent holiness of the land. המצוות התלוית בארץ/hamitzvot hat’luyot b’aretz – The mitzvot depend on the land!

The Messianic Vision: Developing a Relationship with the Land
The ingathering of the exiles depends on the merit of keeping these mitzvot of the land. Therefore, planting fruit-trees in the land of Israel is an important part of the mitzvah to settle the land. Regarding the verse, “You shall possess it and you shall settle in it…” (Devarim 11:31), the Vilna Gaon explains that through planting the Land of Israel we will merit to possess it. (Kol Hator 1:9). Actually, the task of Mashiach ben Yosef, who precedes the final redemption, is to drive away the impure spirit from the Land by gathering in the exiles, rebuilding Jerusalem, and planting and cultivating the desolate areas (Kol Hator 2:117). We fulfill the mitzvah of possessing the land (Bamidbar 33:53), through building and planting” (Kol Hator 1:9).

The Sin of the Spies Repeated in Our Time
The Torah was not given to be lived in the wilderness of Sinai, but in the hills and valleys of Eretz Yisrael. In desiring to keep only the spiritual side of Torah, and not its holy, earthly component, the Spies brought about the death of their entire generation. The lack of faith they displayed in rebelling against the commandment to settle in the Promised Land, reverberates through the annals of Jewish history. Any Jewish outlook that undermines our connection to Eretz Yisrael is destined to fail, because the Judaism of exile is by its very nature, temporary. The only way to truly strengthen Judaism in the Diaspora is to strengthen its connection to the Land of Israel, by linking Diaspora Judaism to the source of Divine Jewish life and holiness in Eretz Yisrael. No matter how pleasant certain exiles may seem, Jewish life outside of Israel is an abnormal situation, and unhealthy Judaism. “One should always live in Eretz Yisrael; even in a city where the majority consists of gentiles. He shouldn’t live outside Israel even in a city where the majority consists of Jews. For whoever lives outside of Israel is compared to someone who worships idols” (Rambam, Laws of Kings Chapter 5), (Based on Ketubot 110b). The strengthening of Torah learning in exile does not minimize the need to be in the Land of Israel, as in the future the synagogues and study halls of Babylon will be reestablished in Eretz Yisrael (Babylonian Talmud, Megillah 29a). “Someone who builds a big stone house unnecessarily in the Diaspora, in order to have more space, is considered as despairing of the coming redemption. His building becomes a danger rather than a protection for him (Chatam Sofer, Yore Deah 138). The final Redemption from Egypt was engendered by the courage of Nachshon ben Aminadav when he stepped into the Reed Sea, which only parted when it reached his neck. We are fortunate to be living on the edge of redemption. To undo the sin of the Spies, we need to show courage and trust that Hashem has given us this entire land to live in, and that when we trust in Him, He will protect us. The Spies who made the Israelites lose hope, brought back from Israel the very same fruits of the land through which Hashem will grant us His ultimate protection. As the prophet proclaims: “But they shall dwell every man under his vine and under his fig-tree; and none shall make them afraid; for the mouth of Hashem of hosts has spoken” (Michah 4:4). May we merit bringing this messianic vision to fruition speedily in our days!

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Turning Our Sparks into Flames that Keeps Burning By Themselves

Life Lessons from the Rebbetzin’s Heart - Parashat Beha’alotcha
Facilitating Independence
After the Sadnat Shiluv Kinneret Swimathon
I was told that as a baby, even before I was able to walk, that the first kind of sentence I would say was: “I can... I want… do it myself!” Since then, independence and responding to challenges has always been important to me. It is part of my calling to also encourage others to rise to challenges and gain skills for independence. This month, I decided to challenge myself by joining the special swimathon and swim across the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee) for the benefit of a center for impaired children and youth. When I met my cousin at a recent family gathering, he proudly announced my ‘altruism’ to be willing to swim 3.9 km in order to raise money for children in need. In truth, it was the other way around. My main desire was to swim across the Kinneret with a group of women in a safe setting, and the only way I could do it was by raising NIS 2000 for Sadnat Shiluv. It was only at the festive dinner, the night before, that I learned what a worthwhile cause the money I raised supported. I was moved by the movie of a day in the life of a 25-year young blind, brain-damaged woman, Bat El. The staff supported Bat El and encouraged her to express her personal aspirations, develop her abilities and achieve her goals in life. They worked around Bat El’s disabilities to help her become as independent as possible, by weaving baskets and working behind the counter of the special coffee shop that Sadnat Shiluv manages. I was inspired and thought about how this is similar to our work at Midreshet B’erot Bat Ayin, where we emphasize teaching learning skills to help our students to delve into the vast sea of the Torah on their own. Even if we are not physically impaired, we are all a bit spiritually impaired until prophecy returns to Israel. It is quite a challenge, both as a parent and teacher, to not only impart life lessons to our children and students, but to facilitate them to stand on their own two feet, and keep moving forward on the Torah path.

Finding the Balance between Igniting Sparks and Keeping Them Burning
We learn about the importance of engendering independence in our dependents from this week’s parasha, which opens with the mitzvah to light the Menorah in the Mishkan (Tabernacle).

ספר במדבר פרק ח (ב)
דַּבֵּר אֶל אַהֲרֹן וְאָמַרְתָּ אֵלָיו בְּהַעֲלֹתְךָ אֶת הַנֵּרֹת אֶל מוּל פְּנֵי הַמְּנוֹרָה יָאִירוּ שִׁבְעַת הַנֵּרוֹת:

“Speak to Aharaon and tell him when you raise the candles, let the seven candles give light over against the face of the Menorah” (Bamidbar 8:2).

Why does it state raising the candles rather than lighting them?

רש"י על במדבר פרק ח פסוק ב
בהעלתך - על שם שהלהב עולה כתוב בהדלקתן לשון עליה שצריך להדליק עד שתהא שלהבת עולה מאליה:

Because the flame rises upwards, an expression denoting “ascending” is used in kindling them, implying that one must kindle them until the light ascends by itself (Rashi, Bamidbar 8:2).

It is not enough to ignite each candle until a spark appears. We need to keep the fire connected to the candle long enough for the spark to become a flame that will continue to burn on its own. It can be quite a challenge to find the right balance between igniting sparks and keeping them going. When looking back on how I educated my two sons with this principle in mind, there are some things I would have done differently today.

Rising to the Challenge for Children and Adults Alike
The tendency of mothering in a smothering way takes work to overcome. It is so much easier in the short run to just spoon-feed and take care of everything by yourself. It is also hard for parents not to take responsibility for their children’s obligations. For example, many parents take responsibility for their children’s homework. Why should the child remember to do his own homework, when Mommy makes sure it gets done? In hindsight, I was too quick to direct my children to do what I felt was right, rather than encouraging them to make their own decisions. This can cause rebellion in one type of children and a lack of independence in another kind of child. In the long run, everyone benefits when children are encouraged to be independent and take responsibility. I recall when my little son, Netanel Shalom, was a bit late in crawling; I helped challenging him by putting a favorite toy a distance away from him and urged him to go for it. He quickly caught up. It is surprising how children and adults too rise unexpectedly to challenges when there is no choice. When my first-born son, Mordechai Meir, had just completed first grade in a very chareidi yeshiva in Israel, he was abruptly pulled out of his protective environment and moved to a more modern English-speaking school in NY. This was because my husband was stationed to fulfill his obligation to the US, working in a physician shortage area. Meir wasn’t used to the American teaching style or culture. He also skipped a class due to the higher level of Judaic studies in Israel, so he was a year younger than everyone else, in a completely foreign environment, while his father worked 24/7 and was unavailable to give support. Yet, Meir quickly learned the ropes, and even began to read his Hebrew Torah studies with an American accent! After only six months in the new school, my husband was transferred to Memphis TN, and again Meir was uprooted from where he had just began to adjust and placed in a very different environment. After four years abroad, we were finally able to return to our beloved Land of Israel. Meir enrolled in the fifth grade, which was another adjustment from Memphis to Bat Ayin. I believe that all these challenges during his childhood, helped Meir adjust so well when he recently had to separate from his wife and children for nine months to get a degree in the US. He managed unexpectedly well, even returning without any trace of English accent in his Hebrew!

Believing in Hashem Helps Us to Believe In Ourselves
It was not an easy decision to choose between the longer and the shorter swim-track in the swimathon. I didn’t want to take a bigger bite than I could chew, yet, I like to go for the greater challenge. Since I am a relatively slow swimmer, the safety boats kept offering me a ride to catch up with the others, but I refused, since I wanted to see if I could do it on my own. It was truly a great exhilarating feeling when I finally arrived at the destination on my own. Over the years, I have come across numerous women who do not believe in their ability to manage challenging situations. Some have a hard time taking responsibility. Others prefer the easy way out. Just as there is a yetzer hara (negative impulse) of arrogance, there is a corresponding yetzer hara of not believing in our own power. This applies to the spies in next week’s parasha, who were afraid to face the seven Canaanite nations and conquer the land. They preferred continued spoon-feeding of the manna in the desert (Chafetz Chayim on the parasha, Parashat Beshalach). Often, I find that the root of lacking self-confidence and having difficulty facing challenges comes from being raised by overly critical mothers. Therefore, the challenge of motherhood includes striking the balance between not doing too much for our kids while still being encouraging and not overly critical. Hashem, our perfect parent, hides His face, in order to allow us to figure things out on our own and make our own choices. How painful it must be for Hashem to allow us to learn from our own mistakes. Yet, simultaneously, He sends us encouraging signs and gently guides us behind the scenes, even when we least expect it. It is the realization that Hashem supports us in our holy endeavors that empowers us when necessary, to take upon ourselves even more than we can manage on our own. When we have emunah in Hashem’s help, our sparks can turn into flames that continue to burn on their own.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Turning Competition and Jealousy into Unity and Peace

Life Lessons from the Rebbetzin’s Heart - Parashat Naso
Jealousy – The Key Destructive Emotion
When I was 2 ½ years old, my sister was born. Until then, I was the only star in the family, and of course, the cutest! I was told that I was very jealous of my sister. No wonder! Many first-born children experience their world crumbling down when their parents’ undivided love and adoration for them suddenly shatters, and the new sibling invader seems to be getting the biggest share. In my experience from treating women through EmunaHealing, I find that the root of many of their current problems are connected with the birth of a sibling. Jealousy has been at the core of every conflict and adversity since the first brothers of the world, until today. The senseless hatred that caused the destruction of the Temple also derived from this negative emotion. Jealousy is actually the key negative emotion that “takes a person out of the world” (Pirkei Avot 4:21). It makes our lives miserable in this world, by never allowing us to feel satisfied with our portion, or accomplishment so long as there is a ‘neighbor’ who has more or can do it better. Even worse, this negative emotion tempts us to speak lashon hara, complain, carry a grudge, or take revenge, etc. and in this way, “takes a person out of the world-to-come.” There is hardly a person who hasn’t experienced feeling jealous at some point in his life. Often jealousy is a result of projection, protection, or competitiveness. Jealousy can lead to distrust, accusations, regrettable arguments and broken relationships. One of the less known characters in this week’s parasha teaches us how to overcome this archetypical competition and jealousy.

Avoiding ‘One Upping’ Promotes Communal Peace and Unity
We named our baby boy Netanel Shalom based on this week’s parasha’s remarkable initiative by Netanel ben Tzuar, the head of the tribe of Yissaschar, designed to prevent jealousy among the tribes, and engender peace. For the dedication of the altar, Netanel gave the advice that all the tribes should offer exactly the same, in order to avoid competition and jealousy. This gave Hashem such nachat (pleasure and satisfaction) that He said, “Include me among you and I will give you My Shabbat.” There is an inviolate rule that only a Public but not a Private Offering can override Shabbat. Therefore, the sequence of offerings of the princes should have been suspended on Shabbat, since they were Private Offerings. G-d, however, made an exception, and allowed the offering to be brought even on Shabbat. Since each of the offerings were made exactly alike, in order to maintain the unity of the community – they were infused with the spirit of a Public Offering and so considered by Hashem. (Midrash Bamidbar Rabbah 14:1). Furthermore, although one description of the offering would have sufficed for all the princes, since they respected one another, each tribe was allotted his own section in the Torah. It is a great honor for the princes, that every year we read the sections dealing with their gifts, instead of just including the gifts of all the tribes in a few letters like in Parashat Vayakhel. This teaches us that we must exert ourselves to be beloved to one another and to respect each other. The prophet teaches: “What does Hashem ask of you? To do justice and love chesed” (Michah 6:8). The fact that the prophet needs to give us this command teaches us that it is not natural for people to understand that this is what brings G-d the greatest nachat (Chafetz Chaim on the Torah, Parashat Naso).

Repetition, Due to Excitement and Awareness
Hashem rewarded Netanel ben Tzuar for his great initiative, and allowed the tribe of Yissaschar to be the second tribe to make his dedication offering, although Yissaschar is one of the younger tribes and never enumerated second in any other place in the Torah.
ספר במדבר פרק ז
(יח) בַּיּוֹם הַשֵּׁנִי הִקְרִיב נְתַנְאֵל בֶּן צוּעָר נְשִׂיא יִשָּׂשׂכָר :(יט) הִקְרִב אֶת קָרְבָּנוֹ קַעֲרַת כֶּסֶף אַחַת שְׁלשִׁים וּמֵאָה מִשְׁקָלָהּ מִזְרָק אֶחָד כֶּסֶף שִׁבְעִים שֶׁקֶל בְּשֶׁקֶל הַקֹּדֶשׁ שְׁנֵיהֶם מְלֵאִים סֹלֶת בְּלוּלָה בַשֶּׁמֶן לְמִנְחָה:

“On the second day, Netanel the son of Tzuar, prince of Yissaschar made his offering: One silver bowl weighing hundred and thirty shekels and one silver basin of seventy shekels by the sanctuary weight; both of them full of fine flour mingled with oil for a meal-offering. One gold ladle of ten shekels, filled with incense; one bull of the herd, one ram and one lamb in its first year, for a burnt offering; one goat for a sin offering; and for his sacrifice of well-being: two oxen, five rams, five he-goats, and five yearling lambs. That was the offering of Netanel son of Tzuar” (Bamidbar 7:18-23).

Parashat Naso is in fact the longest parasha in the entire Chumash because it repeats word for word the offering of each of the tribes instead of just paraphrasing that all the tribes offered the exact same such and such. This is to demonstrate Hashem’s great pleasure with their identical offering of unity that rectified the sibling jealousy of Kain and Hevel. Another reason why this entire paragraph is repeated word by word for each tribe is to show that although the princes brought the exact same offering, none of them copied his friend. Each had his own personal relationship to his offering. Because of each tribe’s original intention, excitement and awareness, the Torah described each of their offering in its own section.

Turning Around Jealousy to Strengthen Relationships
Jealousy may stem from a feeling of inadequacy that we don’t have the capacity to get or achieve what someone else got or did. When we trust ourselves and/or others to act in a manner that will keep the relationship that we treasure strong, we can turn around our jealousy to sustain this very relationship. The following anecdote illustrates how we can use our jealousness to work on ourselves and learn to believe in our ability to achieve our true desires. Danny and Gabby were brothers. Danny became jealous of Gabby when their dad mentioned how much he had enjoyed an afternoon of hiking with Gabby. “Dad never hikes with me,” Danny thought. “Gabby is more fun than I am. I don’t know how to make Dad laugh the way Gabby does.” With the help of a school psychologist, Danny learned to look deeper into his jealousy in order to discover what it intended to accomplish. He realized that he was competing with Gabby for Dad’s affection, and that his brother was winning. “I want Dad to love me and I don’t trust either that he does, or that I merit his love,” revealed Danny. “What might be a more effective way to go about winning your Dad’s affection than getting stuck in the jealous feeling?” asked the psychologist. “Perhaps I could think about what I can do to build a better relationship with Dad instead of dwelling on my jealousy?” pondered Danny, picking up the clue. “Dad and I both love music. I’ll start inviting him to join when my friends and I have a jam session. Maybe he and I could even work together on writing some songs... and make a recording of them as a Mother’s Day present for Mom. Dad would really love that.” We can learn from this anecdote that instead of comparing our actions to what others do better than us, we can look into ourselves to find there what is special that we can offer, and do more of it.”(Susan Heitler, PhD, a Denver Clinical psychologist, author of From Conflict to Resolution and The Power of Two).

Discerning the Deeper Unified Reality of Abundance
How can we apply the lesson of Netanel ben Tzuar to get rid of nagging jealous feelings that won’t let us sleep peacefully at night? How can we work on overcoming this negative emotion? Understanding the mistaken outlook that feeds jealousy will help us to make the reality shift necessary to defeat it. Jealousy derives from a feeling of “there is not enough” – whether it be enough space, food, love or attention to provide for the needs of everyone. Therefore, if someone else is more beloved, wealthy, honored, youthful, beautiful or successful, the jealous person will falsely conclude, consciously or subconsciously, that this other person, somehow embezzled these desired goods or virtues from the portion that was due to him or her. We need to attune this warped, minimalistic outlook to the deeper reality of abundance. In Hashem’s infinite world, there is enough light and love to go around. A mother and a grandmother’s heart can infinitely expand with overflowing love for their ever-increasing offspring. If someone else has mastered a desirable skill or a trait, that doesn’t mean we can’t acquire it, too. Rather than envying the accomplishments of others – secretly begrudging them for having snapped away our opportunities-, we can look to them for inspiration. We can turn around our jealousy and learn from the people who elicit it to gain more self-awareness. We can become conscious of what we truly desire and learn from those who have achieved it how we can get there as well. The Talmud praises this attitude calling it, קנאת סופרים תרבה חכמה/kinat sofrim tarbeh chachma – jealousy for learning increases wisdom (Babylonian Talmud, Baba Batra 21a). When we strengthen our emunah in Hashem’s infinite love, together with a belief in our own deservingness, we will no longer fear any personal lack, no matter how blessed or successful someone else may be. We need to realize that we are not separate competing entities, but rather, part of a unified organism, like the individual fingers in a hand. Would one finger be jealous at the other? Rather, each of us completes the other and works together to accomplish the task at hand. By tuning into the underlying organic unity between every individual, there is no room for jealousy and competition – only unity and peace. Once we learn to overcome jealousy and competition by allowing this awareness to penetrate every fiber of our being, then we have truly tapped into the lesson of Netanel ben Tzuar.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

The Brotherhood of Physical and Spiritual Warfare

Life Lessons from the Rebbetzin’s Heart - Parashat Bamidbar
Sacrificing the Safety of Our Sons for the Safety of Our People
This year my second and youngest son Netanel Shalom will turn twenty. He did not, and is not planning to join the army. More than 15 years ago, my oldest son Mordechai Meir served as a tank driver in the IDF as part of a hesder yeshiva track. At Yeshivat Kerem b’Yavne where Meir attended, some students choose to continue learning, while the majority choose the hesder track, which sandwiches army service between periods of yeshiva study. I understand, connect with and support the decision of both of my sons. When Meir became of army-enrollment age, I was torn. None of my friends from the Chareidi Yeshiva, where I received my initial Torah training, sent their sons to the army. They did not want to pull their sons away from Torah learning and put them in a hefker [immoral] environment. In addition, they believed that the mitzvah of learning Torah overrides the mitzvah of defending our country, especially since there are enough guys who want to be soldiers and fight our physical wars. Still, something was bothering me about their attitude. When I envisioned the danger facing the young soldiers, something inside me contracted out of fear. I suddenly felt an invisible bond with all the mothers in the Land of Israel who had to sacrifice the safety of their sons for the safety of our people. I started to question, “Why should other mothers have to go through this frightening ordeal, while I excuse myself? Why am I ‘better than thou?’ Keenly aware of the split between the chilonim (irreligious Jews) and the dati’im (religious Jews), I had always wanted to build bridges. However, only when I was facing my own son’s potential army recruitment did I truly understand the controversy over yeshiva versus army service. My fear made it clear to me why this issue continues to deepen the split between religious and non-religious Jews in Israel. In the end, however, the decision was not up to me. One day, Meir simply informed my husband and me that he was being drafted into the army in three months.

Would We be Living in Israel Without an Army to Protect Us?
This week’s parasha opens by enumerating the young men of each tribe “aged twenty years and over being listed head by head” (Bamidbar 1:18). “All of the Israelites aged twenty years and over, enumerated by their ancestral houses, all those in Israel who were able to bear arms…” (Bamidbar 1:45). Clearly, the Torah believes in the vital importance of an army. Whenever I see a soldier, I always smile to him thankfully, and recall how as a secular teenager, straight out of high school, I came to Israel and immediately fell in love with the country. It didn’t take long before I met my husband and embraced the Torah lifestyle. Would I have returned to Torah in any other place? Would I have come to Israel had it not been in Jewish hands with a Jewish army to protect me? Surely, Israel needs to have an army of trained soldiers to defend us! Doesn’t the halacha teach that everyone must go out to fight in case of attack, even a bridegroom from his chamber and bride from under her chupah (canopy)? (Mishnah Sotah 8:7). Certainly, it should apply to rabbinic students no less! If every Jewish man were learning in yeshiva, and no-one would join the army, would we allow our enemies to ravage our land and kill our people without taking up arms to defend ourselves? How can anyone imagine it is right to let others die for him rather than protect his own life and family? (Rav Zevin, Tradition, Fall 1981, p. 53). So how can I accept that my other son, now in his twentieth year, allowed himself to be exempted from the army?

Setting Oneself Apart for Torah and Divine Service
The answer is hinted at in the continuation of our parasha:
ספר במדבר פרק א
(מט) אַךְ אֶת מַטֵּה לֵוִי לֹא תִפְקֹד וְאֶת רֹאשָׁם לֹא תִשָּׂא בְּתוֹךְ בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל:

“But the tribe of Levi you shall not count [in the military census], nor number their heads” (Bamidbar 1:49).

When the young men were drafted into the army in Biblical times, the tribe of Levi was exempted, in order that this tribe could devote itself fully to Divine worship. People understand that not everyone is suited for the battlefield. When America had the draft, clergy were excluded, students in the universities were deferred, and others in sensitive positions excused. There is a famous Rambam explaining that the special status of the Levites does not pertain exclusively to the tribe of Levi:

רמב”ם יד החזקה הלכות שמיטה ויובל פרק יג הלכה יג
ולא שבט לוי בלבד אלא כל איש ואיש מכל באי העולם אשר נדבה רוחו אותו והבינו מדעו להבדל לעמוד לפני יי לשרתו ולעובדו לדעה את יי והלך ישר כמו שעשהו האלהים ופרק מעל צוארו עול החשבונות הרבים אשר בקשו בני האדם הרי זה נתקדש קדש קדשים ויהיה י”י חלקו ונחלתו לעולם ולעולמי עולמים ויזכה לו בעה”ז דבר המספיק לו כמו שזכה לכהנים ללוים הרי דוד ע”ה אומר י”י מנת חלקי וכוסי אתה תומיך גורלי בריך רחמנא דסייען:

Not only the Tribe of Levi, but any individual whose spirit moves him and whose knowledge gives him understanding to set himself apart in order to stand before Hashem, to serve Him, to worship Him, and to know Him. He walks upright as G-d created him, and removes from his neck the yoke of considerations of most people. Such an individual is as consecrated as the Holy of Holies, and Hashem shall be his portion and inheritance forever and ever. Hashem will grant him adequate sustenance in this world, just as He granted the Kohanim and the Levites… (Rambam, Hilchot Shemita and Yovel 13:13).

The Shield and Spiritual Weapons of Torah and Intense Prayer
Many yeshiva students rely on this statement by the Rambam when exempting themselves from the army, although it may be questioned, whether Rambam intended by this statement to sanction yeshiva students exchanging the yoke of the army with the yoke of Torah learning. Still, it makes sense to me that about ten percent of our young men, who have the proper aptitude and attitude should devote themselves entirely to Torah study, at least for a certain part of their lives. Our nation needs a spiritual army of dedicated Torah scholars no less than we need a physical army. Hashem’s protective miracles are evident in each and every war that we have won, in spite of being a minute minority against the vast armies of aggressive Arab enemies. Learning Torah and praying with heartfelt intention are spiritual weapons that grant victory for the Jewish people. If every young man were drafted into the army there would be no dedicated yeshiva student engaging in full time Torah learning. We need a z’chut (merit) in order to be victorious in war. The yeshiva student, dedicated to Torah, powerful prayer and intense mitzvah observance works as a team with our dedicated soldiers defending our Holy Land. As the Netziv points out (Devarim 31:1), the troops used to give a share of the spoils to the Torah scholars, in recognition of the fact that their Torah learning kept the soldiers and the people safe.

Torah Test to Enter the Spiritual Army of Israel
The nation of Israel consists of many different tribes, each adding their unique contributions. Just as in an orchestra, each of the musicians contributes his unique talent, so, too, different people contribute to the welfare and security of Israel in various ways. One of the Sages of Yavneh is quoted as reflecting, “I am a man, and my friend is a man; my work is in the city, and my friend’s work is in the field. Each person complements the other, and no one person can do all the jobs.” (Techumin 7, p. 332). Thus, each of my sons chose the direction where they felt they could contribute most to the Jewish nation, while appreciating the contribution of his brother. Rav Kook, the first Chief Rabbi of Israel, felt strongly that yeshiva students were assuring the spiritual welfare of the nation. Ultimately, we rely on our spiritual superiority to save us, rather than our military might. I agree that the z’chut of Torah learning is no less an effective shield for the Jewish community than military service. Nevertheless,I do see a problem in granting blanket permission for all yeshiva students to get exemption from army service, based on Rambam’s statement. Those who are equated with the Levites are defined by spiritual qualities of the highest standards. Who can confront a mirror and tell himself that he ought not to go to the army because he is kodesh kodashim, sanctum sanctorum, in the Rambam’s terms? I believe that instead of parents singling their sons out for saintliness, or the yeshiva students making their own decisions that the level of their Torah learning supersedes army service, there needs to be a proper standard to examine the credentials for aspiring Torah scholars that make them suitable to be selected into the spiritual army of Israel! We need Mashiach to implement this selection!