Wednesday, March 29, 2017

What will Give me Strength to Deal with all my Hardships?

Ask the Rebbetzin - Parashat Vayikra

Dear Rebbetzin,
I really feel at a complete loss, and have a hard time keeping up my emunah (faith). My biological clock has been ticking for more than a decade, and I don’t know if I will ever get married and have children. I just feel so devastated and lost. How can I believe that I will get married soon, when I see so many older single women? How can I know that I am not going to remain one of them all my life? I’ve been praying and praying but it doesn’t seem like Hashem is answering me. Can you please help strengthen my emunah?
Rachel Stein (name changed)

Dear Rachel,
Hitbodedut (personal prayer)
in the forest next to Bat Ayin
I totally feel for you. What you are going through is not easy, and I am aware that it doesn’t necessarily help you to know that you are not alone in waiting to find your soulmate. The uncertainty of not knowing what will be and whether you will ever be able to find a husband and have children can be almost unbearable. In truth, we never really know anything in life for sure. Even a woman, who does get married and has children, sometimes, G-d forbid, may lose her spouse and children. The main lesson of life is to accept that Hashem is in control. When we let go and accept G-d’s will totally, Hashem doesn’t need to bring us hardships in order to teach us this lesson. However, how can we accept Hashem’s will and keep our steadfast emunah when we are in a situation that is so unbearable?

Emunah is Trans-rational Acceptance of Hashem’s Will
Emunah doesn’t mean that we believe that everything is going to turn out the way we want. Emunah is to believe and accept that Hashem is in charge. Everything is in His loving hand and according to His will. Emunah is to trust that everything is ultimately for the best even if things do not always turn out according to our wishes. Within this understanding and acceptance, we can find our place of heartfelt prayer to Hashem that things will end up the way we hope and pray – like Chana who poured out her soul in prayer for children. When we accept Hashem’s will, and make His will our will, then Hashem too will make our will His will (Pirkei Avot 2:4). Emunah is bitul (gratuitous trans-rational acceptance), and as harsh as it may sound, you need to accept that you may or may not get married and have children. Emunah is to believe that even if what you desire the very most never materializes G-d forbid; your life can still be meaningful and have a great purpose. I know many single women who are miserable. I also know others who find ways to be happy with their lot in life, performing many mitzvot and contributing their talents to the world. Still other ‘older singles’ have found fulfillment in later marriages to men with children whose children call them “Grandma!”

Hardships are Wakeup Calls to Turn to Hashem
“Hashem desires our hearts.” He desires to hear our prayers from the depths of our hearts. Hashem always answers our prayer but sometimes the answer is “no” and we have to accept that Hashem knows best what we really need to rectify ourselves. Often the answer is “not yet” or “soon” but we just don’t know. Therefore, we need to be patient in our emunah and continue to turn to Hashem with our prayers. This week’s parasha is called וַיִּקְרָא/Vayikra – “He called.” Hashem constantly calls us to connect with Him, and hardships are wakeup calls to turn to Hashem with every fiber of our being.
וַיִּקְרָא אֶל משֶׁה וַיְדַבֵּר הָשֵׁם אֵלָיו מֵאֹהֶל מוֹעֵד לֵאמֹר: (ויקרא פרק א פסוק א)
“Hashem called to Moshe and Hashem spoke with him from the Tent of Meeting saying…” (Vayikra 1:1).

As I write in my newest Parasha Meditation Book, the last word לֵאמֹר/l’emor – “saying” is extra. If Hashem "spoke," obviously He would be “saying.” Whenever “saying” appears as an extra word, it teaches us about the ongoing, continuous prophecy which applies to all future generations (Mechilta, Parashat Beshalach, parasha 1). Just as Hashem called to Moshe, He continuously calls us throughout the times, nurturing an ongoing relationship with us. Hashem is putting you in this unbearable situation in order to make you unload your burden on Him through the depths of your prayers. Whenever you pray, don’t forget to include prayers for other single women who are seeking their soulmate. 

Practice Conversations with Hashem
Practicing Hitbodedut (speaking with Hashem in your own words) is a powerful way of heeding Hashem’s call for an ongoing relationship with Him. I used to find hitbodedut intimidating, as the recommended time is for a full hour a day, which there is no way I could fit into my schedule. My interest awoke, when I heard a talk by Rabbi Miki Yosefi, who mentioned that even five minutes a day of hitbodedut can do wonders. He also explained how Hashem responds to us by answers we receive in our own heart. We learn this from King David’s Tehillim: לְךָ אָמַר לִבִּי בַּקְּשׁוּ פָנָי – “To You my heart said, ‘seek My face’” (Tehillim 27:8). Who is saying, “Seek My face? It is written as if my heart is saying that, but what is the face of our heart that we are asked to seek? When it states, “To You my heart says, seek…” who is talking to whom? According to Rashi, the word “to You” means “My heart speaks for You and as Your emissary telling all of Israel to seek My face.” Thus, Rabbi Nachman explains that when we speak to Hashem, Hashem answers us through the words that come into our own heart. What our heart says is really the words of Hashem (Likutei Moharan, part 1, Torah 138). So, I highly recommend daily Hitbodedut – pouring out your heart to Hashem, expressing yourself in your own words, in the language you understand best. Tell Him what you are going through – your pain, the various pressures you are under, your personal situation, that of others in your home, and also that of the Jewish people as a whole. Plead with Hashem to help come genuinely close to Him. Argue with the Creator in any way (like Avraham and Chana). Chose the most burning question in your life and ask Hashem for an answer. Ask Hashem to guide you and then remain silent to receive His answer for you.

May Hashem bless you with true emunah and may He send you your soulmate speedily!

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

How can I Help Restore Peace when Dementia Pulls the Family Sanctuary Apart?

Ask the Rebbetzin - Parashat Vayakhel/Pekudei

Dear Rebbetzin,
I’ve been put in a difficult situation acting as a middleman between a daughter and her mother who is undergoing hardship and grief due to the husband’s dementia and subsequent placing in a nursing home. The daughter does not understand her mother’s hardship in dealing with the emotional strain of the decline of her husband as well as her being overwhelmed by the additional tasks falling on her shoulders. Although the daughter means well, all her activities to honor her father, such as trying to celebrate his ‘round’  birthday, organizing children to come sing for him, renting musical instruments to do music therapy with him and more is only adding stress to the mother. The mother is doing the best she can; she visits her husband daily and takes care of his essential needs. She is not in a place where she can handle anything extra, such as her daughter’s creative ideas and initiatives. Moreover, these initiatives exposes her husband’s decline, which the mother is working hard to keep private. The daughter feels very attached to her father but lives abroad. She gets very hurt every time her suggestions to make her father happy are shut down. How can we help the daughter better understand her mother and become more supportive of her?
Sima Weinberg (name changed)

Dear Sima,
It is very kind of you to care so much about your friend and her grief and to reach out to be helpful. Dementia is called the disease of the relatives because it affects them more than most other illnesses. Sickness in general puts a strain on the family relations, and it is very nice of you to want to help bring the mother and daughter closer and help them support one another in their grief. I can only imagine how hard it must be for your friend to watch her husband deteriorate and become a shadow of himself, in addition to having to manage all the responsibilities of the household alone, herself no longer a youngster. It is possible that she also may have pent up guilt feelings for placing her husband in a home, and for not being able to do more. Perhaps her daughter’s initiatives exacerbates these feelings, reminding her of her own limitations. It is important that your friend has friends like you, with whom she can express her feelings and get support. 

Dementia – the Relatives’ Disease
Dementia definitely hits the wife hardest, but do not belittle the grief of the daughter, who experiences her beloved father – her protector and stronghold – degenerating, while being unable to help. It seems like the mother and daughter have opposite ways of dealing with their grief. The mother, as you mention, has been trying hard to shield her husband from the rest of the world in order not to expose his debility. Perhaps the daughter feels that having dementia at an advanced age is not necessarily something embarrassing that needs to be swept under the rug. Actually, almost half of the world population has dementia by the age of 90. Yet, it is important to help the daughter understand her mother, and not take it personally when her initiatives to help are rejected. She needs to understand the strain her mother is under, which may cause her to overreact in her opposition to her daughter’s desire to make her father happy. You can be helpful to your friend by helping her to see her daughter in a more objective light and learn to appreciate her initiatives to help even while living abroad. It is not easy to be living in another country while one’s parents are in need, especially not when being repeatedly rejected by one’s mother, while trying to be helpful.

Contributing to the Family Sanctuary According to Desire and Ability
It sounds like the daughter has a lot of energy and desire to help. You mentioned that she is very attached to her father, and it may be possible that she has a better understanding of his needs than others do. It would be good for the mother to take advantage of this and discuss with her daughter ways that she can be helpful. The family is like a sanctuary and for the sanctuary; each person contributes his or her particular gifts according to their ability to give:

ספר שמות פרק לה (כט) כָּל אִישׁ וְאִשָּׁה אֲשֶׁר נָדַב לִבָּם אֹתָם לְהָבִיא לְכָל הַמְּלָאכָה אֲשֶׁר צִוָּה הָשֵׁם לַעֲשׂוֹת בְּיַד משֶׁה הֵבִיאוּ בְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל נְדָבָה לַהָשֵׁם:
“All the men and women whose hearts moved them to bring anything for the work that Hashem commanded through Moshe to be done, they, the children of Israel bought it as a free will offering to Hashem” (Shemot 35:29).

If you can be instrumental in helping the mother and daughter to allow each other to contribute to the family according to their respective abilities and talents while learning to support and appreciate one another, then you have indeed add a building block for the Temple. 

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Why are only Males Commanded to Appear at the Temple During the Three Pilgrim Holidays?

Ask the Rebbetzin - Parashat Ki Tisa

Dearest Rebbetzin,
I have a question for you – I feel very hurt when I read that Hashem wanted only the “males” to come to the Temple during the Shalosh Regalim (Pilgrim Festivals). The word used to describe the commandment to appear at the Temple isזְכוּרְךָ /zechurcha – “your males” from the root zachar. The Torah didn’t even use a more general expression like B’nei Yisrael – “Sons of Israel’ which could possibly include females.
Marina Malkin (Name Changed)

Dear Marina,
I understand that you feel hurt because it seems that when Hashem commanded only the males to appear at the Temple as if He only wants to see the men and doesn’t care about the women. Could it really be that Hashem prefers men, with no interest in a relationship with women? This seems out of character with how Hashem listened to the prayers of our Mothers throughout the Torah. So, how can we understand the commandment for only the males to appear at the Temple for the particular holidays of Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot, without it being denigrating of women?

Men Need Ritual Discipline
Personally, I’m not really bothered by the commandment for males to appear at the Temple mount, even though it is repeated three times in the Torah, in Parashat Mishpatim, Ki Tisa and Re’eh:

ספר שמות פרק כג פסוק יז שָׁלשׁ פְּעָמִים בַּשָּׁנָה יֵרָאֶה כָּל זְכוּרְךָ אֶל פְּנֵי הָאָדֹן הָשֵׁם:
“Three times a year all your males shall appear before the Master, Hashem” (Shemot 23:17).

ספר שמות פרק לד פסוק כג שָׁלשׁ פְּעָמִים בַּשָּׁנָה יֵרָאֶה כָּל זְכוּרְךָ אֶת פְּנֵי הָאָדֹן הָשֵׁם אֱלֹהֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל:
“Three times a year all your males shall appear before the Master, Hashem, the G-d of Israel” (Shemot 34:23).

ספר דברים פרק טז פסוק טז שָׁלוֹשׁ פְּעָמִים בַּשָּׁנָה יֵרָאֶה כָל זְכוּרְךָ אֶת פְּנֵי הָשֵׁם אֱלֹהֶיךָ בַּמָּקוֹם אֲשֶׁר יִבְחָר בְּחַג הַמַּצּוֹת וּבְחַג הַשָּׁבֻעוֹת וּבְחַג הַסֻּכּוֹת וְלֹא יֵרָאֶה אֶת פְּנֵי הָשֵׁם:
“Three times a year all your males shall appear before the face of Hashem, your G-d, in the place that He will choose, on the festival of matzah, the festival of Shavuot and during the holiday of Sukkot. They shall not appear before Hashem empty handed” (Devarim 16:16).

These verses describe the obligation to bring a specific sacrifice: the Olat Re’iyah during the three Pilgrim Festivals. When,  b”H, we will have a Temple, I imagine I’ll be happy to visit it voluntarily, when I’m able, together with my husband, without the pressure of being commanded. Sometimes, having to commute and stay overnight for the holidays somewhere else, may be challenging for a woman, for example, at the beginning or end of her pregnancy and right after birth. Temple and Synagogue service is the man’s domain. He needs this ritual discipline in order to elevate himself from his lower, more animalistic nature. Women are naturally more in tune with their Divine essence. Therefore, they are exempted from all positive, time bound mitzvot, including the commandment to appear with a sacrifice at particular times at the Temple. Her home is a woman’s private Temple, and she can be equally close to Hashem wherever she finds herself.

Men are Providers while Women are Receivers
It is known in Kabbalah and from the human physiology of procreation that men are משפיע/mashpia – providers, whereas women are מקבל/mekabel – receivers. The mitzvah to appear at the Temple during the Pilgrim Festivals is not a mitzvah of receiving, but rather a mitzvah of providing, as it includes the requirement to bring a sacrifice, in order not to come emptyhanded. This is why this mitzvah is associated specifically with the זכר/zachar – the male aspect, as the reason the Torah commanded the males to appear is for the sake of giving נַחַת רוּחַ /nachat ruach – spiritual contentment to Hashem (K’tav Sofer, Devarim 16:16). Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot are, moreover, considered male holidays as opposed to Chanukah and Purim, which are considered female holidays. This is because all the miracles of Chanukah, and Purim occurred within the realm of nature, whereas the miracles of the Exodus were beyond the space and time frame of nature. This explains why the ‘natural’ miracles of Chanukah and Purim took place through women. Since the miracles occurred within nature during these holidays, and the world stands as ‘receiver’ in relation to G-d, they came about through women, who also symbolize the aspect of mekabel (Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev). It is interesting to notice that the male holidays will be abolished in the future, whereas the female holidays are eternal. “All the holidays will be nullified in the future except Purim and Chanukah” (Midrash Mishlei Parasha 9). The other holidays depend on the Jewish people’s drawing down holiness into time. Since the future will be beyond time, it follows that the holiness of the holidays will be nullified, as a candle is nullified in bright daylight. Yet, on Purim, the realm of holiness within all reality was revealed independently of people’s actions. Therefore, it will never be nullified, similar to Shabbat, which is not dependent on people’s deeds (Sefat Emet, on Purim). Purim is a feminine holiday where, rather than effecting and rectifying reality, we receive and reveal the eternal light of Hashem which perpetually permeates all of reality. Therefore, the light elicited by the other festivals will pale in comparison with that elicited by Purim and Chanukah by means of women.

Revealing Hashem’s Presence Within All Existence
The mitzvah of coming to the Temple during the three masculine holidays is described as an obligation to be “seen.” The sacrifice required to be brought at these occasions was called Olat Re’iyah – “Appearance burnt offering.” The mitzvah of appearing is an external action required of the men for their own sake. Since women are naturally more internally disposed, we do not have the obligation to appear externally, Hashem’s knowing eye sees all of us equally, whether we appear before Him or not. In conclusion, there is no reason to feel hurt regarding the mitzvah for the males to appear at the Temple at specific times. It does not in any way reflect a preference for men over women. Men and women have different roles in serving Hashem. Our job, as women, is to tune deeply into our souls and into the hidden level of reality and reveal Hashem’s presence within all of existence.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Hilchot Purim and Parashat Tetzave

Ask the Rebbetzin - Parashat Tetzave
Hilchot Purim and Parashat Tetzave
What is the Role of Garments in the Torah?

Dear Rebbetzin,
Since our Rabbi was sick, we studied on our own the chapter about Purim in the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch. We have some questions about what we learned:
1. Do we light candles for Purim, and if so do we recite a bracha?
2. We did not understand the passage about the custom to eat seeds on Purim and the reference to the verse, “He changed her and her maidens to the best place” (Megillat Esther 2:9).
3. We are aware that it is prohibited to pray while being drunk, how do people pray while fulfilling the mitzvah to get drunk on Purim?
4. We were also wondering why we read Parashat Tetzave the Shabbat prior to Purim. Is there any connection between the garments of the Kohanim and Purim?
Thank you so much,
The Students of Midreshet B’erot Bat Ayin

Dearest Students,
That’s great you studied Kitzur Shulchan Aruch on your own, I'm so proud of you! I look forward celebrating Purim with you!

1. Although there is a mitzvah to light candles in honor of all seudot mitzvah (festive meals), as being able to see the food increases its pleasure, however, since it is allowed to do (malacha) creative work on Purim we can enhance the meals with candle lighting or electric lights at any time during the holiday. Therefore, there is no mitzvah to light candles with a bracha at the eve of Purim as we do before other holidays. You are very welcome to light candles in honor of Purim, but without a bracha.

2. The reason for the custom to eat seeds on Purim (sunflower seeds or sprouts etc.) is that Daniel and his friends ate seeds at the castle of Nebuchadnezer in Babylon in order to keep kosher.  Daniel advised Esther to do the same, in order to keep kosher in the unkosher palace. This is one of the reasons why we eat Hamantashen, made with poppy seeds, on Purim. When it states, “He changed her and her maidens for good” (Megillat Esther 2:9), it hints that their diet was being changed for good.

3. Most solutions to the dilemma of praying while being drunk involve either a compromise on drunkenness, or on prayer. Keep in mind that women don’t have a mitzvah to become drunk on Purim. Even if you hold that women are commanded to get drunk on Purim, it is certainly suitable for women to follow the opinion that allows you to fulfil the obligation of drinking without actually getting drunk (Rema, Mishna Brurah). There is also an opinion that allows people to pray while drunk to a certain degree. There are three different levels of drunkenness. The first is when someone is still able to talk to a distinguished person. Rav Kook Z”l writes that although usually it is prohibited to pray even in such a state, they made an exception on Purim since there is a Mitzvah to drink. (Commentary to Sidur Olat Re'iya volume 1:440). The second level of drunkenness is when a person can no longer talk to a distinguished person properly. Even in this case, Rav Kook states that if he can still fear Hashem and control himself, he may be allowed to pray on Purim. However, one is not allowed to pray when he has reached the third level of drunkenness – being as drunk as Lot. Here is a solution for men that doesn’t compromise on either being drunk or davening: Remain sober until Mincha Gedolah, and pray. Then get drunk at the se’udah (Purim meal). Sleep it off, and go to a late Ma’ariv.

4. The Connection between the Garments of the Kohanim and Purim
Every year, except during a leap year, we read Parashat Tezave , which discuss the garments of the Kohen Gadol, the Shabbat which exactly precedes Purim:
ספר שמות פרק כח (ב) וְעָשִׂיתָ בִגְדֵי קֹדֶשׁ לְאַהֲרֹן אָחִיךָ לְכָבוֹד וּלְתִפְאָרֶת:
“You shall make holy garments for Aharon your brother for honor and for glory” (Shemot 28:2). What is the underlying connection between the garments of the Kohanim and the holiday of Purim?

The Role of Garments in Megillat Esther
Garments are a central theme in the Scroll of Esther. At Achasverosh’s grand party, which celebrated the fact that the Temple in Jerusalem had not yet been rebuilt, he wore the eight holy garments of the Kohen Gadol (Babylonian Talmud, Megillah 12a). Vashti would strip the Jewish girls of their clothes on Shabbat (ibid. 12b). When Mordechai found out about Haman’s decree to annihilate all Jews, Mordechai rent his clothes and wore sack cloth and ashes (Megillat Esther 4:1). “Esther sent respectable clothes to him but he refused to accept them” (ibid. 4:4). When Esther came before the king, it states, “Esther dressed up in royalty” (ibid. 5:1). Mordechai, too, wore royal garments: “Let the royal apparel be brought which the King has worn” (Ibid 6:8).  All this teaches us that the story of Purim is veiled in the secret of garments. (Rav Moshe Rephael Luria). Through the choice of his garments, Achashverosh attempted to project a false image of himself. He wanted to assume the role of Aharon with his dignity and splendor, yet, Aharon wore his clothes of dignity, honor of splendor because he understood the dignity of human distinctiveness, whereas Achasverus clothed himself in the same fashion, while attempting to strip his own wife naked of all dignity and distinction.

Glory and Splendor for Whom?
The choice of our dress influences both our own mindset and the way others perceive us.
1. The garments of the Kohanim imbue all who look upon them with the glory and splendor of G-d and his Holy Temple. Just as the guards of a king wear uniforms that signify that the person who lives inside is of great importance, so too, the Kohanim reveal the importance of their work and their “boss,” by wearing uniforms.” They inspire awe and respect, making it clear to all Israel that Hashem wishes to honor Aharon, and considers him to be worthy of being a vehicle for the Divine Presence. 2. Clothes affect our mindset. The glory of the garments is a means of ensuring that the Kohen has the proper state of mind during the Temple service. Whatever part of his body he looks at, will arouse him to realize that the presence of G-d is to be found in the Temple, and thereby remember before Whom he stands (Sefer HaChinuch).  Clothing gives us respect and honor. In our everyday lives, we should dress for the part of striving to be a servant of G-d.

The Underlying Theme of Megillat Esther: Return of Israel’s Spiritual Garments Besides the external clothing that we wear in this world, there are also spiritual garments to clothe ourselves in the next world, which are created from our Torah and Mitzvot. The purpose of descending into this world is to get dressed up in these splendid spiritual garments of light, when we return from this world. Just as the purpose of the Mishkan and Temple is to recapture the Divine light of the Garden the purpose of the garments of the Kohanim is to return us to the place in Eden where our exterior body is a pure reflection of our soul. Each one of the Kohen Gadol’s eight garments atoned for a different kind of sin of Israel. They represent our spiritual garments and had the ability to return us to our original state of purity in the Garden of Eden. When Israel lusted for the meal of Achasverosh’s party, they stripped off their spiritual garments. This gave Haman the opening for his evil decree. Mordechai did not accept the garments Esther sent him, because the blemish on Israel’s spiritual garments had not yet been rectified. According to the Zohar, when “Esther dressed up in Malchut (Royalty)” (Esther 5:1), she dressed up in the supreme spiritual garments of Adam and Eve before the sin. She caused Israel to repent and once again to dress in glory and cleave to the Most High. This is what caused Haman’s decree to be nullified, and enabled Mordechai to go “out from the presence of the king in royal apparel of blue and white and with a great crown of gold, and with a wrap of fine linen and purple” (Esther 8:15). This was the sign that Hashem had accepted the repentance of the Jewish people. Esther and Mordechai’s dedication to Torah not only succeeded in preventing Haman’s holocaust, but moreover brought about the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem. The peak of its service is the Kohen Gadol in his glorious attire.

Accepting Diversity in Dress Returns the Divine Presence
Tiferet (Splendor) shines forth from contrast, while sameness and conformity tend to be dull. G-d is extolled by our uniqueness and the entire tapestry of all Jewish souls. Yet, when Haman and Achashverosh sought to destroy us, they wanted to homogenize us. Haman told Achashverosh, “There is one people” (Esther 3:8) – “Those Jews are all the same,” negating our individual uniqueness. Achashverosh donned the magnificent robes, to say, the Jewish people are no longer unique. “But Mordechai left the king’s presence, clad in royal attire” (Ibid. 8:15). By being clad in magnificent, uniquely colored garments, he brought each person to accept his own specific role, while also accepting the unique contribution of his fellow (Rabbi Nachman). Eating from the Tree of Knowledge caused self-awareness and embarrassment because of our separate existence, giving rise to insecurity, jealousy and hatred throughout the generations. The need for conformity in clothes is an outcome of insecurity. Yet, on Aharon’s heart was the breastplate with the names of all the children of Israel. There was a unique stone representing each of the 12 tribes upon his heart. Aharon merited this breastplate because he was truly happy in his heart for Moshe’s achievements. “Is not Aharon the Levite your brother? … and also behold he comes to meet you, and when he sees you, he will be glad in his heart” (Shemot 4:14). This happiness and acceptance of the other’s unique qualities is the kind of happiness that brings back the Shechina to Israel. Our fragmentation into groups of black hats, knitted kipot etc. wouldn’t have to cause so much tension and sinat chinam (Senseless hatred), if we would only understand that our own personal choice of identification does not negate the choices of others. If only we would realize that by expressing the unique inner sparks of our own soul, as well as accepting and embracing someone else’s individual contribution, that we gather the dispersed sparks of Adam and Chava, and rebuild the holy Temple.