Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Why is the Torah Filled with War?

Ask the Rebbetzin - Parasha Devarim

Dear Rebbetzin Chana Bracha,
As I’m reading the first parasha in the Book of Devarim, I’m abhorred!
Isn’t universal peace and brotherhood the highest value? Then why does the Torah – which is supposed to be a ‘Tree of Life’ promulgate cruelty and war which causes bloodshed and death? Why do we have to “wipe out” Amalek and the Canaanites? I’m embarrassed in front of my non-Jewish friends to be a member of such a warmongering religion. Even today, it seems from the media, that the Israeli soldiers are the cruelest army in the world. Please help me understand, why we need all these wars and the dispossession of the original inhabitants of the land of Israel. Why can’t we just live peacefully side by side with the other nations who also have historical rights to the land?
Shleima Cohen (name changed)

Dear Shleima,
I totally understand where you are coming from. I too am a peacenik at heart. When I read in the Torah about all the battles and about how Hashem commands us to go to war and kill, I too cringe inside. War is indeed horrible, and it’s the greatest tragedy when our young men lose their lives or limbs to defend our land. The ultimate ideal of the Torah will take place at the end of days when our Temple will be rebuilt and all the nations will come running to bask in the light of the Jewish people. That time will be the end of war as it states:
ספר ישעיה פרק ב פסוק ד וְשָׁפַט בֵּין הַגּוֹיִם וְהוֹכִיחַ לְעַמִּים רַבִּים וְכִתְּתוּ חַרְבוֹתָם לְאִתִּים וַחֲנִיתוֹתֵיהֶם לְמַזְמֵרוֹת לֹא יִשָּׂא גוֹי אֶל גּוֹי חֶרֶב וְלֹא יִלְמְדוּ עוֹד מִלְחָמָה:
“He shall judge between the nations and reprove many peoples, and they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift the sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore” (Yesha’yahu 2:4).

If world peace and harmony indeed is the ideal in the Torah why does G-d command the Israelites to wage war numerous times in the Torah?

Delivering the Land into Their Hands
At the opening of Parashat Devarim, Moshe reiterates to the Israelites that they are to conquer the Land of Israel:
ספר דברים פרק א פסוק ח רְאֵה נָתַתִּי לִפְנֵיכֶם אֶת הָאָרֶץ בֹּאוּ וּרְשׁוּ אֶת הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר נִשְׁבַּע הָשֵׁם לַאֲבֹתֵיכֶם לְאַבְרָהָם לְיִצְחָק וּלְיַעֲקֹב לָתֵת לָהֶם וּלְזַרְעָם אַחֲרֵיהֶם:
“See, I have set the land before you; Come and possess the land that G-d swore to your forefathers, to Avraham, to Yitzchak, and to Ya’acov, to give them and their descendants after them” (Devarim 1:8).

The land can be compared to a body, and its people to the soul of the land. Just as each body is connected to its particular soul, so does each land have a particular people to which it belongs. The Land of Israel is created specifically for the people of Israel. Only in this land can the soul of the Children of Israel flourish to its fullest, both on an individual and national level. The original Divine intent was that, when the Israelites would enter their Promised Land, the Canaanite inhabitants would recognize that the land belonged to them and they would simply get up and leave or accept the Israeli government, stay and live in peace with us. No war would have been necessary:
רש"י על דברים פרק א פסוק ח
באו ורשו - אין מערער בדבר ואינכם צריכים למלחמה אילו לא שלחו מרגלים לא היו צריכין לכלי זיין:
“No one will contest the matter, and you will not need to go to war; if they had not sent spies, they would not have needed weapons” (Rashi, Devarim 1:8).

Not only would the nations living in the Land leave on their own, without a fight, they would do so without the Israelites even displaying any military might. The usual tactics of intimidation would not be necessary, for G-d would miraculously cause the nations to flee. Had they not sent the spies, Israel would have merited Divine miracles that would have prevented even the smallest measure of war (Rabbi Alon Anava,

Men of War
The fact that conquering the Land of Israel depends on our merit is illustrated by the sad story of the ma’apilim – who went ahead into the land to fight without accepting the decree of anadditional 38 years wandering in the desert. Moshe recalls how these men rebelled against G-d’s decision:

 “Then you answered and said to me, we have sinned against Hashem. We will go up and fight, according to all that Hashem our G-d commanded us. And you girded on every man his weapons of war, and ventured to go up into the hill. But Hashem said to me, Say to them: Neither go up, nor fight, for I am not among you, else you be smitten before your enemies. So I spoke to you, but you would not hear, you rebelled against Hashem’s commandment and went presumptuously up into the hill. However, the Emori, who dwelled in that mountain, came out against you, and chased you, and they crushed you at Chorma in Se’ir” (Devarim 1:41-44).

These men are the prototype of the people referred to by Moshe as “men of war.” They include the entire generation of Israelites, who cried with the spies in their lack of emunah and inability to believe in Hashem’s forthcoming miraculous conquest of the Land of Israel.

ספר דברים פרק ב פסוק יד וְהַיָּמִים אֲשֶׁר הָלַכְנוּ מִקָּדֵשׁ בַּרְנֵעַ עַד אֲשֶׁר עָבַרְנוּ אֶת נַחַל זֶרֶד שְׁלשִׁים וּשְׁמֹנֶה שָׁנָה עַד תֹּם כָּל הַדּוֹר אַנְשֵׁי הַמִּלְחָמָה מִקֶּרֶב הַמַּחֲנֶה כַּאֲשֶׁר נִשְׁבַּע יְהֹוָה לָהֶם:
“The days when we went from Kadesh Barnea, until we crossed the brook of Zered, numbered thirty eight years, until all the generation of the men of war expired from the midst of the camp, just as Hashem swore to them” (Devarim 2:14).

Moshe teaches us that inheriting the land is dependent upon the moral situation of the nation. Only when we are completely worthy as a nation will G-d be in our midst and we will merit to live peacefully on our land “under our grapevine and in the shade of our fig tree.”

Offer of Peace
Moshe understood that war is only the last resort after having employed all peaceful means, as it states, “When you approach a city to wage war against it, you shall propose peace to it” (Devarim 20:10). “The deeds of the fathers are a sign for the children.” Just as Avraham entered the First World War – between the four and the five kingdoms – woefully undermanned and Hashem turned his dust into swords, so can Hashem wage war for us to redeem the Land of Israel and return it to its rightful owner. Although Hashem explicitly commanded Moshe to launch a war against Sichon to conquer his land, Moshe still sent messengers to him with words of peace. However, Sichon hardened his spirit and refused to let the Israelite pass his land peacefully, forcing the Children of Israel into war in order to fulfill Hashem’s command (Rabbi Shimon Klein, This is an example of how the wars that Israel wage are repeatedly initiated by the enemy.

Wars of Defense
Unfortunately, the basic relationship between the Jewish people and the world is one of struggle and combat. This relationship was established from the minute that Avraham set foot in the Land of Canaan and was epitomized by the war between the four and the five kings. Avraham entered the war only in order to save his nephew Lot, who had been taken captive. Since then, almost all of Israel’s wars have been wars of defense – wars for the sake of saving Jewish lives from harsh and cruel enemies. The Arab nations initiated four wars against Israel: 1948 War of Independence, 1956 Sinai War, 1967 Six Day War and 1973 Yom Kippur War. Israel defended itself each time and won. After each war, the Israeli army withdrew from most of the areas it captured. (see Camp-David Accords). This is unprecedented in World history and shows Israel’s willingness to reach peace even at the risk of fighting for its existence each time anew. I heard the following anonymous quote: “If the Arabs put down their weapons today there would be no more violence. If the Israelis put down their weapons today there would be no more Israel. Think about it...”

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Why can the Father and Husband Nullify her Word?

Ask the Rebbetzin - Parasha Matot/Masai

Dear Rebbetzin Chana Bracha,
I’m really bothered by notion of vows in this week’s parasha. Why is so much attention given to what a person says he will or will not do? Why is that anyone else’s business? Even more so, the asymmetry in the matters of nullifying wows is quite disturbing to me. Why can a father nullify a daughter’s wow but not a son’s? Why can a husband nullify his wife’s oath, whereas the wife cannot nullify her husband’s vow? This smacks of fundamentalist chauvinism! Why does any vow I make have to be validated by my husband first? Why do I need his permission? Am I not an adult, capable of making my own commitments and carrying them out?
Nancy Wilikov (name changed)

Dear Nancy,
I understand that the notion of vows and the Torah’s emphasis on the seriousness of our words is quite foreign to the Western mind. How often do we say, for example, that we will be somewhere at a certain time, but we end up being deterred? No one makes a big deal if we arrive five minutes after the agreed time. Yet, our Torah portion teaches that whenever we commit to a certain action, no matter how insignificant, our words have the power and obligation of a vow.

אִישׁ כִּי יִדֹּר נֶדֶר לַהָשֵׁם אוֹ הִשָּׁבַע שְׁבֻעָה לֶאְסֹר אִסָּר עַל נַפְשׁוֹ לֹא יַחֵל דְּבָרוֹ כְּכָל הַיֹּצֵא מִפִּיו יַעֲשֶׂה:
(במדבר פרק ל פסוק ג).
“If a man makes a vow to Hashem or makes an oath to prohibit himself, he shall not violate his word; according to whatever came out of his mouth, he shall do” (Bamidbar 30:3).

If we agreed to help clear the table right away, this means we must do it now, not later, not whenever we feel like it, or after we have finished what we are in the middle of. Once the words have emerged from our mouth, we are obligated to fulfill exactly what we ourselves said. Thus, we encounter vows for which we are held accountable on a daily basis. The reason our words carries such importance is that words create the reality. By means of speech Hashem created the world, and by means of speech people can create joy or anger etc. We have the power to effect change and create a new reality through our speech. In spiritual healing we focus our minds to create a picture of an alternate reality and then to channel the image of this desired reality into the power of speech. But why is this ability seemingly diminished from women by the overriding power of the speech of their men?

The Liability of Single Women
(ד) וְאִשָּׁה כִּי תִדֹּר נֶדֶר לַהָשֵׁם וְאָסְרָה אִסָּר בְּבֵית אָבִיהָ בִּנְעֻרֶיהָ: (ו) וְאִם הֵנִיא אָבִיהָ אֹתָהּ בְּיוֹם שָׁמְעוֹ כָּל נְדָרֶיהָ וֶאֱסָרֶיהָ אֲשֶׁר אָסְרָה עַל נַפְשָׁהּ לֹא יָקוּם וַהָשֵׁם יִסְלַח לָהּ כִּי הֵנִיא אָבִיהָ אֹתָהּ: )במדבר פרק ל פסוק ד,ו)
“If a woman makes a vow to Hashem, or imposes a prohibition [upon herself] while in her father’s house, in her youth… if her father hinders her on the day he hears it, all her vows and her prohibitions that she has imposed upon herself shall not stand. Hashem will forgive her because her father hindered her” (Bamidbar 30:4,6). 

Before all worked up about the gender disparities let’s read the fine print as presented by Rashi. What exactly is the father’s role in absolving his daughter’s vow? To whom does this apply? The term the Torah uses is בִּנְעֻרֶיהָ/bineureha – “in her youth.” Rashi explains that the verse does not refer to a minor child, since her vows are not binding, nor to an adult single woman, because she is not under her father’s control but responsible for her own oaths. So the only small window when a father can cancel his daughter’s vows that is when she is between the ages of 11 and 12. A single woman older than 12, a widow or a divorcee is liable for her own vows (Rashi, Bamidbar 30:4; Chaya Shuchat, Broken Vows).

For the Sake of Protecting the Woman
Now, what about married women? It seems that her independence is greatly compromised. On the surface level, it appears as though a husband’s words overrides his wife’s. Is a married woman no longer able to take responsibility for her own decisions?

וְאִם בֵּית אִישָׁהּ נָדָרָה אוֹ אָסְרָה אִסָּר עַל נַפְשָׁהּ בִּשְׁבֻעָה:  (יג) וְאִם הָפֵר יָפֵר אֹתָם אִישָׁהּ בְּיוֹם שָׁמְעוֹ כָּל מוֹצָא שְׂפָתֶיהָ לִנְדָרֶיהָ וּלְאִסַּר נַפְשָׁהּ לֹא יָקוּם אִישָׁהּ הֲפֵרָם וַיהֹוָה יִסְלַח לָהּ: (יד) כָּל נֵדֶר וְכָל שְׁבֻעַת אִסָּר לְעַנֹּת נָפֶשׁ אִישָׁהּ יְקִימֶנּוּ וְאִישָׁהּ יְפֵרֶנּו: (במדבר פרק לפסוק יא, יג, יד)
“But if she vowed in her husband’s house, or imposed a prohibition upon herself with an oath… if her husband revokes them on the day he hears them, anything issuing from her lips regarding her vows or self-imposed prohibitions shall not stand; her husband has revoked them, and Hashem shall forgive her. Any vow or any binding oath of self-affliction, her husband can either uphold it or revoke it (Bamidbar 30:11,13,14).

Although nullifying the woman’s vow removes the punishment, should she be unable to fulfill it; this does not prevent her from carrying out what she has sworn. Let’s say a woman takes upon herself to become a vegetarian. The ability to annul her vow does not give her husband the power to force her to eat meat. It only prevents her from being punished, should she accidentally come to eat meat. Moreover, not every vow can be nullified by her father or husband. Rabbi S.R. Hirsch explains that the right of the husband to annul her vow is limited to the vows through which the woman causes herself hardship and pain. Thus, the ability to annul her vow serves as a protection for the woman.

Women, Sensitivity, and Self Sacrifice
All generalizations have their exceptions. It is especially difficult in our evolving world, to stereotype men and women. Nevertheless, the fact that men and women are created with physical differences alludes to their different emotional and spiritual makeup; since everything in the physical world is a reflection of the spiritual reality it manifests. Whereas it is generally easier for a man to be detached and objective, a woman’s role as a nurturer of new life makes her more emotionally sensitive, enabling her to love and identify with others. In her selflessness and zeal to give, she might not always realize her own limitations. A woman could, therefore, easily come to take upon herself more than she can handle. Her husband’s ability to annul her vow serves to prevent her altruistic nature from going overboard.

Achieving Divine Forgiveness
Commenting on the phrase “Hashem shall forgive her,” Rashi ponders why the woman needs forgiveness, when her vow has already been annulled. He explains that Scripture describes the case of a woman who vowed to become a Nazarite and whose father heard it and annulled it for her without her knowledge. Although her vow was void, she thought it was still in effect. Therefore, she needed forgiveness when acting contrary to the vow she had taken upon herself. Rashi points out that by revoking the vow of the daughter or wife, she is able to merit forgiveness in case she should accidentally break it. His comment concludes with a fortiori: If those whose vows have been annulled require forgiveness, how much more when someone transgresses vows which have not been annulled (Rashi, Bamidbar 30:6; Chana Bracha Siegelbaum, Women at the Crossroads: A Woman’s Perspective on the Weekly Torah Portion).

Eternal Laws of Torah Outweigh Norms of Modern Society
Whenever Torah laws contradict what is socially acceptable in the ‘free’ Western world, the eternal value of the Torah takes precedence over the ephemeral values of the western world. However, there is a reason why Hashem causes certain perspectives to become more popular at certain times. Each wave of consciousness draws out another aspect contained within the depths of the wellsprings of Torah. Thus our need to affirm the importance of women in Judaism became an impetus for perceiving the Torah laws that seem to belittle women’s role in a deeper way.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Is it Possible to Receive Prophecy Today?

Ask the Rebbetzin - Parasha Pinchas
Printable Version

Dear Rebbetzin Chana Bracha,
I have a quick question. We learned that the age of prophecy came to an end. I don’t remember when that was said to be. I have friends who say there can still be prophets today. I understand there are different levels of prophecy and there is a difference between the prophecy of Moshe and the prophecy of the other prophets in the Bible. I also am aware that there is still Ruach HaKodesh (Divine Inspiration) today. What exactly is the different and when did true prophecy end? I meant this to be a simple question but I guess it is not.
Hannah Furie

Dear Hannah,
It’s so nice hearing from you, thank you for your excellent question. You are right that according to the Talmud the era of prophecy has come to an end, yet we are awaiting its return now at the Messianic era. Since the glorious Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed, we have lost not just a building, but a more direct connection with Hashem through prophecy. We find ourselves in a time when we are starving to hear the word of G-d. The following prophecy applies perfectly to our time:

הִנֵּה יָמִים בָּאִים נְאֻם הָשֵׁם אֶלֹקיִם וְהִשְׁלַחְתִּי רָעָב בָּאָרֶץ לֹא רָעָב לַלֶּחֶם וְלֹא צָמָא לַמַּיִם כִּי אִם לִשְׁמֹעַ אֵת דִּבְרֵי הָשֵׁם: (יב) וְנָעוּ מִיָּם עַד יָם וּמִצָּפוֹן וְעַד מִזְרָח יְשׁוֹטְטוּ לְבַקֵּשׁ אֶת דְּבַר הָשֵׁם וְלֹא יִמְצָאוּ: 
(עמוס פרק ח פסוק יא-יב)
“A time is coming, declares Hashem my G-d, when I will send a famine upon the land: not a hunger for bread or a thirst for water, but for hearing the words of Hashem. People shall wander from sea to sea and from north to east to seek the word of Hashem, but they shall not find it” 
(Amos 8:11-12).

This thirst, which we experience today, for the return of prophecy is reflected in your question and in the attempts of numerous people to tune into the word of G-d, in various ways. I believe that prophecy will gradually return to Israel level by level from increased intuition until once again our relationship with Hashem will be expressed through full-fledged prophecy with the rebuilding of the Temple. 

The Temple is the Circuit for Prophecy
Hashem commanded us to build a holy abode for Him in order that He would dwell within us. He didn’t say, “I will dwell within it,” but “within them.”  From this we learn that G-d’s presence dwells within Israel to a much higher degree when the holy Temple is built. Until that time, when our Temple in Jerusalem is rebuilt, Hashem’s presence is hidden and we live in spiritual darkness (hester panim). The rebuilding of the Temple will ignite our spiritual light of prophecy, in the same way that plugging a light into the electric outlet will illuminate a dark room. According to most Torah authorities, Malachi was the last prophet (see, for example, Tosefta Sotah 3:3; Yoma 9b; Sanhedrin 11a). Although Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi prophesied after the destruction of the First Temple, a number of sources consider the destruction of the First Temple as having dealt a fatal blow to prophecy. Even when the Second Temple was built, prophecy never returned full force:

The First Temple differed from the second in regards to five things: The ark, the ark-cover, the Cherubim, the fire, the Shechinah, the Holy Spirit [of Prophecy], and the Urim v’Tumim 
(Babylonian Talmud Yoma 21b).

The Transition from Prophecy to Wisdom
The destruction of both Temples caused a transition in Israel from the era of נבואה/Nevuah – Prophecy to the period of חכמה/Chachma – Wisdom. This was the time when the Oral Law was written down.
“…the day when the Temple was destroyed, prophecy was taken from the prophets and given to the wise. Is then a wise man not also a prophet? The meaning is: Although it has been taken from the prophets, it has not been taken from the wise. Amimar said: A wise man is even superior to a prophet, as it says, “A prophet has a heart of wisdom” (Tehillim 90:12). Who is compared with whom? Is not the smaller compared with the greater?” 
(Babylonian Talmud, Baba Batra 12a).

The Talmud attributes a superior level to the chacham (wise) because a person who has acquired Torah by means of his own wisdom, through Arousal from Below, is superior to one who has received prophecy as a free gift of Arousal from Above. Although the prophet’s connection to Divine knowledge is greater, his relationship to his prophecy overwhelms his free will. The wise does not share such intense spiritual experience, yet, because he has gained his knowledge through his own efforts, it is broader and more grounded. Ever since the destruction of the Temples, we no longer have prophecy that emanates from Arousal from Above. Rather, Israel was now to rediscover Hashem’s will through their own effort, engaging in the wisdom of Torah study and logical inferences through Arousal from Below. This transition was also reflected in the general world with the emergence of Greek Philosophy, and in the pursuit of logic that replaced interest in mysticism and the occult. Likewise, the temptation for idolatry had vanished (Yoma 69b), and there was no longer a need for prophecy to counterbalance magic (The Vilna Gaon, commentary on Seder Olam Rabbah 30; Rabbi Tzadok, Divrei Sofrim 21b).

Halachic Petition Through Arousal from Below
The antecedent of this transition- from having a relationship with Hashem through Arousal from Above to relating to the Divine through Arousal from Below, which eventually led to the metamorphosis from Prophecy to Wisdom, begins in this week’s parasha. The daughters of Tzelafchad brought down a new law in Israel through Arousal from Below. Their story takes place at the end of the 40-year wandering in the wilderness, on the verge of entering into the Land of Israel. The land was to be divided into portions according to tribes and families. Until then, the law of land inheritance dictated that family plots would be passed down from father to son. Yet, Tzelafchad had passed away leaving five daughters but no sons. This is when his daughters rose to face Moshe, Elazar and the entire congregation stating their petition:

במדבר פרק כז פסוק ד-ז לָמָּה יִגָּרַע שֵׁם אָבִינוּ מִתּוֹךְ מִשְׁפַּחְתּוֹ כִּי אֵין לוֹ בֵּן תְּנָה לָּנוּ אֲחֻזָּה בְּתוֹךְ אֲחֵי אָבִינוּ: וַיַּקְרֵב משֶׁה אֶת מִשְׁפָּטָן לִפְנֵי יְהֹוָה: וַיֹּאמֶר יְהֹוָה אֶל משֶׁה לֵּאמֹר: (ז) כֵּן בְּנוֹת צְלָפְחָד דֹּבְרֹת נָתֹן תִּתֵּן לָהֶם אֲחֻזַּת נַחֲלָה בְּתוֹךְ אֲחֵי אֲבִיהֶם וְהַעֲבַרְתָּ אֶת נַחֲלַת אֲבִיהֶן לָהֶן:
“Why should our father’s name be eliminated from his family because he had no son? Give us a portion along with our father’s brothers So Moshe brought their case before Hashem. Hashem spoke to Moses, saying: Tzelafchad’s daughters speak justly. You shall certainly give them a portion of inheritance along with their father’s brothers, and you shall transfer their father’s inheritance to them” 
(Bamidbar 27:1-7).

The Wisdom of the Daughters of Tzelafchad Pulled Down a New Torah Law
Although Moshe’s prophecy was superior to all other prophets in several ways, (see Rambam, Hilchot Yesodei HaTorah 7:6), now, as the Israelites were about to enter the Land and Moshe’s life was coming to an end, his level of prophecy was waning. Therefore, he didn’t have a ready answer to the daughters, but needed to bring their case before Hashem. Thus, it was the daughters, through their wisdom, learnedness and righteousness (Baba Batra 119b), who had the merit to pull down a new Torah law into the world. As Rashi states, their eye saw what Moshe’s eye did not see (cf. Tanch.). Through the daughter’s arousal from below in wisdom, they were credited with an even finer perception of this part of the Torah than Moshe himself.

This chapter ought to have been written by Moshe, but for the fact that the daughters of Tzelafchad had so much merit. It was therefore written through them (Baba Batra 119a; Sanhedrin 8a).

A Tzaddik May Possibly Receive Prophecy Even Today
According to Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Lubawitz, the belief that prophecy ceased after the destruction of the First Temple is a misconception. He holds that, although The Talmud states that the era of prophecy ceased, it only means that prophets are no longer as common as they used to be. Yet, prophecy itself continues to exist (Likkutei Sichos, vol. 14, p. 72ff; Sefer HaSichos, 5751, p. 788; p. 790, fn. 101). Even today, we may still find exceptionally righteous people endowed with special spiritual gifts. A tzaddik possesses the ability to see and perceive spiritual realities concealed from the ordinary eye and mind. Although we don’t find many prophets today, a tzaddik possessing ruach hakodesh is much more common in our time. Just as people have different levels of intelligence, there are many different levels of prophecy. Since the destruction of the First Temple, the higher level of spiritual perception (prophecy) is found in only a select few exceptional individuals in each generation. Ruach hakodesh, which is a lesser level of spiritual perception than prophecy, is much more commonly found. Those with the divine gift of ruach hakodesh are able to perceive reality on a much higher spiritual level than the average person. Many Torah authorities attest to the existence of ruach hakodesh in our current era, particularly the writings of the Arizal – one of Jewish history’s greatest authorities on the Kabbalah (Shloma Majeski, The Rebbe-Chassid Relationship, chapter 5).

The Return of Prophecy to Sons and Daughters
Since Arizal’s time in the sixteenth century, a new shift has been happening in the world at large as well as in the Jewish world. While Reason had been dominant for generations, we have gradually been moving into an era with more interest and attraction towards the mystical and spiritual realms. The popularity of various neo-Chassidic movements is an expression of the yearning for spirituality and Divine inspiration, so prominent today. As we come closer to the rebuilding of the Temple and the return of prophecy, the search for the inner dimension of the Torah, spiritual healing, mystical experience, and divine inspiration is rapidly growing. Through various meditative practices, people are beginning to open their intuition to experience a deeper level of reality. Even without such practices, there are those who receive prophetic messages in their dreams or just intuitively know hidden things about others. Redemption is like a sunrise. It starts with a small ray, which gradually increases until the Divine Presence is revealed like the bright daylight (Yerushalmi, Yoma chapter 3). As the clouds of exile evaporate one by one, the dawn of redemption returns flashes of prophetic spirit to Israel. I truly believe we are entering the era described so beautifully by the prophet Yoel:

וְהָיָה אַחֲרֵי כֵן אֶשְׁפּוֹךְ אֶת רוּחִי עַל כָּל בָּשָׂר וְנִבְּאוּ בְּנֵיכֶם וּבְנֹתֵיכֶם זִקְנֵיכֶם חֲלֹמוֹת יַחֲלֹמוּן בַּחוּרֵיכֶם חֶזְיֹנוֹת יִרְאוּ: 
(יואל פרק ג  פסוק א)
“It shall come to pass afterwards that I will pour out My spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and daughters shall prophesy; your elders shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions” 
(Yoel 3:1).

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Should I be Afraid of Ayin Hara (The Evil Eye)?

Ask the Rebbetzin - Parashat Balak
Printable Version

Dear Rebbetzin Chana Bracha,
I’m concerned about Ayin Hara. Last week, someone commented on my special water bottle: how nice and unique it was. The next day it broke. Similar kinds of things happen often to me and to people I know. For example, someone asked my friend if she could look at her chicken coop to get an idea of how to make her own. The next day my friend found one of her favorite chickens dead. This could not be just a random incident, since none of her chickens had died for the last several months. I’ve become really afraid of the evil eye. Each time someone mentions something nice that I have or do, I cringe inside with fear that I may now lose it. I am trying my hardest to hide whatever I get that is new, but you cannot hide everything, like a new car! On the other hand, I’ve heard that Ayin Hara has no power if you don’t believe in it. Yet, how can I not believe in the evil eye when I have experienced time after time the loss of something precious, soon after someone has been enchanted by it?
Ma’ayan Iris (name changed)

Hamsa against the evil eye
Dear Ma’ayan,
I can understand that you are concerned about Ayin Hara. Although it is said that the evil eye doesn’t harm people who don’t believe in it, nevertheless, the Torah, Talmud and Halacha are replete with cases of Ayin Hara. Moreover, the Sages were very careful to protect themselves against Ayin Hara, and established numerous halachic guidelines to protect oneself from הזק ראיה/hezek reiyah – the damage of the eye. For example, we do not call a father and son up to the Torah one after the other, in order to avoid Ayin Hara (Shulchan Aruch, Orech Chayim 141). It is forbidden to stand by the neighbor’s field and look when the crops are high, in order not to damage them by Ayin Hara It is good manners, when one sees one’s neighbor busy at his work to bless him, “May you succeed in your work” (Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 183:6, Laws of Financial Damage). Some people do not believe in Ayin Hara, claiming, “I’m the master of my own destiny; therefore other people’s energy cannot hurt me.” There is truth to this claim but it is not exact. We do have free will, but so does the person who sends negative energy. Therefore, we need to find the right balance between taking protective precautions without becoming overly neurotic about Ayin Hara and negative energy. Too much preoccupation and fear of Ayin Hara lowers our vibration and makes us more susceptible, according to the principle of, “what you resist persists.”

The Human Eye Has Power to Affect Our Environment
Just as we are surrounded by air that cannot be seen, so is there invisible energy all around us. When we come into a holy place, where people, who are close to Hashem think holy thoughts, pray, learn Torah and perform mitzvot, we can feel the holy energy. On the other hand, in a place where people with negative thoughts and actions reside, negative energy can be sensed.  Dr. Masaru Emoto found that human thought has the power to directly affect the world around us. He demonstrated this with pictures of frozen water under a microscope, after people had directed their thoughts at the water. Amazingly, when subjected to good thoughts, the frozen water crystalized into beautiful shapes. Conversely, when people thought negative thoughts near the water, the shapes became lop-sided and ugly. Even more potent than thoughts, the human eye is an energy center that can send out either negative or positive energy. By means of looking, a person affects reality,   through Ayin Hara, and Ayin Tova (The Good Eye). Ayin Tova has an even greater influence (Rav Tzadok of Lublin, Takanat Hashavin 6). Some people have a high threshold of susceptibility to negative energy, but even they are not always able to avoid the influence of very high density of Ayin Hara that some people send out.

Bil’am’s Evil Eye
The concept of Ayin Hara plays a pivotal role throughout Parashat Balak. The Torah tells us that Bilam lifted up his eyes in his third attempt to curse the Jewish people:

ספר במדבר פרק כד (ב) וַיִּשָּׂא בִלְעָם אֶת עֵינָיו וַיַּרְא אֶת יִשְׂרָאֵל שֹׁכֵן לִשְׁבָטָיו וַתְּהִי עָלָיו רוּחַ אֱלֹהִים:
“Bilam lifted up his eyes, and saw Israel dwelling according to its tribes…” (Bamidbar 24:2)

Rashi learns from the expression, “lifted up his eyes” that Bilam tried to impose the evil eye upon Israel. Rabbeinu Bachaya adds that when Bilam saw “Israel dwelling according to its tribes,” he noticed that their camps were organized in such a way, that the tent openings faced away from each other, to avoid causing evil eye to one another. Why did Bilam, specifically now, after realizing that the doors of Israel were facing away from one another, try to impose his Ayin Hara on Israel? The camp of Israel was covered by the Cloud of Hashem until the sin of the Golden Calf, when the Cloud departed and the camp of Israel was revealed. Ayin Hara only has power over that which is revealed to the eye. Therefore, when Bilam realized that the tribes of Israel were exposed, he wanted to send them his evil eye. However, even so, Bilam’s evil eye had no power over the Children of Israel because of the holiness of the camp of Israel. This holy protection was the result of the opening of each tent facing away from one another, so that the insides of the tents would not be revealed to one another (The Taz on the Torah, Bamidbar 24:2). 

Developing a Good Eye is The Best Protection from the Evil Eye
“Anyone who has mastered these three things is from the students of Avraham Avinu, and [anyone who has mastered three other things is from the students of the wicked Bil’am. One who has a good eye, a low spirit and a humble soul – is from the students of Avraham Avinu. One who has an evil eye, a high spirit and a wide soul – is from the students of the wicked Bilam...” (Pirkey Avot 5:19).

Avraham is praised for having a “good eye” which entails the characteristic of הסתפקות/histapkut – ‘satisfaction.’ This is exemplified also by Ya’acov, who said, “I have everything” (Bereishit 33:11), rather than Esau, who claimed, “I have a lot” (Ibid. 33:9), implying that he still wanted more. We need to be students of Avraham Avinu, who was satisfied with what he had, and didn’t constantly seek to amass more material possessions. Even a shoelace and string he refused to receive from the King of Sedom. This character trait of developing a good eye is the best protection from the evil eye.

The Mitzvot Protect against Ayin Hara
Rabbi Dessler asked his father how it could be fair that a person may suffer because of the jealousies of another. His father answered him that the person, whose possessions have caused jealousy, may have been careless and flaunted his possessions causing jealousy to arise. This jealousy causes the other person to cry out in pain and his cry rises up to the Heavenly Court. Pele Yoetz adds that although a person should not flaunt his wisdom, his good deeds, or his wealth, he must simultaneously act thoughtfully so that others do not sense that he is being cautious. If someone is poor and notices that wealthy people avoid him, or someone who is childless notices that a blessed mother of many children is avoiding her, this could cause them distress. We must also not refrain from doing any mitzvah due to being concerned about Ayin Hara. For example, we should not be afraid to bring a poor man into our home or speak publicly to teach people Torah wisdom. One “who keeps a mitzvah will be not know any evil,” for a mitzvah protects – it is a shield and armor.

Strengthen Your Emuna System and Protect Yourselves Against Negative Energy
We cannot just dismiss the power of negative energy as nonexistent if we don’t believe in it. Just as there is light and holiness in the world, so does the opposite exist. We would be foolish not to strengthen our immune system in order to protect ourselves against virus and bacteria. Likewise, we need to strengthen our emunah system in order to protect ourselves against negative spiritual energy. By raising our spiritual vibration, developing self-esteem and viewing ourselves with Hashem’s perpetually kind and open eye, it is possible to rise above the influence of negative energy. We can also work on removing our own negative energy toward others by consciously sending positive energy to them. Yet, the greatest protection is to become happy with our portion like Avraham, and thereby avoid sending out an Evil Eye to others, as it states, “the evil eye has no power over the eye which did not want to take nourishment from what did not belong to it” (Babylonian Talmud, Berachot 20a).