Friday, December 23, 2011

Chanukah 2: Beis HaMikdash on my Porch

The following is based on the Sfas Emes. Feel free to print this out and read it over Shabbos Kodesh, just please not during Tefilos!

All of the various constructs of time that we experience work based on a unified Kabalistic formula called ‘Ratzo V’Shov’ – ‘Going and Coming’. ‘Coming’ is a reference to gaining energy while ‘Going’ means to expend it. This means that all time-systems, from the smallest all the way to the grandest, grow in a rising crescendo to their peak and then descend from there to a point of total powerlessness.

In the most microcosmic sense this is a person’s breath. When breathing in, my chest expands and pushes out until a point where it simply can’t contain any more. But then comes the moment of where I exhale and all of that vitalizing oxygen rushes out until I’m empty.

The day begins with sunrise. The sun creeps out without making too much of a presence. The dew of the previous night is not yet evaporated. There is no beaming heat. But all of that changes as we make our way to mid-day. Now we can barely be outside. I can feel the sun’s influence on the back of my neck. Only to be followed by another descent into sunset, and then towards the absolute darkness of midnight.

This applies to the week as well. The Kabalists teach that the light of Shabbos Kodesh already beings to enter the world on Tuesday night. The spiritual build-up reaches its climax on Shabbos itself and the universe makes it way down from there.

And during the month this manifests in how the moon waxes and wanes. We constantly experience how the moon’s presence pulsates from full until new and then back again.

And so too within the year’s seasons. In the summer the sun rises early and sets late. There is simply more light in the world. But as we make our way into the heart of winter the opposite occurs. The sun makes it’s way out up significantly later and comes down again before we can barely manage to enjoy the few, cloud-concealed rays that it does emit.

And on the grandest scale this is the life of a human being. From a powerless infant until a full-grown adult and then back down to a point where once again instead of being providers – we become dependant on our care-givers.

All of these systems are parables for one another. The peak of the inhale is the sun at noon, the week during Shabbos, the month during the full moon, the year during the summer and a person at their personal height. The end of the exhale is synonymous with the sunset, end of the week, new moon, heart of the winter and the end of life as a whole.

In the cycle of the year we are currently experiencing the most lifeless segment. We have the absolutely shortest days of the year. We are in the final days of the month where the moon is barely visible. And it specifically right now, in this dark and numb portion of the year that God said it’s divinely ordained that we have Chanukah. Seriously? Right now?

Let’s learn about a Machlokes in the Gemara. We know that our custom is to begin with one candle and add one each night until the climactic eighth night. This is the opinion of Beis Hillel. But Beis Shamai famously disagrees. They are of the opinion that we should begin with eight and remove out each night as to end off the holiday with one final candle.

Why do Beis Hillel maintain their position? Because of a universal concept called Ma’alin BaKodesh V’Ain Moridin – In areas of holiness we always seek to increase and grow as opposed to descend. Based on this principle, it’s only logical to go up each night.

And Beis Shamai? Where are they coming from? The Gemara tells us they want to learn the laws of light Chanukah-candles from “Parei HaChag” which is a reference to the seventy sacrifices brought on Suco; each corresponding to one of the seventy nations of the world. The Gemara in Perek HaChalil explains that with these Korbanos the Goyim have a once-a-year opportunity to receive spiritual cleansing from the Beis HaMikdash. And how are these sacrifices brought? On the first day thirteen offerings are brought. On the second, twelve. And so on and so forth until all seventy Korbanos are offered. Just as Parei HaChag descends, so too Neiros Chanukah.

I understand Beis Hillel. There is a universal concept that applies here just like anywhere else. Ma’alin BaKodesh. Great. But what in the world is Beis Shamai driving at?  Why would I see a comparison between Parei HaChag and Nerios Chanukah? What common denominator links these two events as to allow me to theorize about learning Halachos from on to the other?

Perhaps by analyzing two more Halachos we’ll be able to answer our questions. The Gemara states that it is prohibited to receive any benefit from the light of the candles. This is not merely going on mundane activity like using the light to see my food or count pocket-change. I am disallowed from using the light even for a Dvar-Mitzvah – a holy activity such as learning or checking for Shatnez.

Why? The Ran explains that we learn the Halachos of the Chanukah Menorah from the Menorah in the Beis HaMikdash. Just as the Menorah in the temple was not allowed to be used for anything – including a Dvar Mitzvah. So too, each person’s own Menorah can’t be used for anything – including a Dvar Mitzvah.

Based on this, the Sfas Emes reaches a beautiful conclusion. If the Halachic realities surrounding the Chanukah Menorah in my window draw from the Halachic life of the Menorah in the Beis HaMikdash it must be that their light is one in the same. The light of my private Menorah is a microcosmic representation of the Beis HaMikdash’s light. And this translates into a very dramatic and perspective-shifting insight into the inner-workings of Neiros Chanukah: I can transport the light of the Beis HaMikdash to anywhere that my Menorah is lit. In Tallahassee, Indonesia, The Ivory Coast and the North Pole: If there is a Jew lighting the Menorah, then the Beis HaMikdash is there.

One final concept: The Gemara in a number of places says that “L’Olam Lo Yarda Shechina L’Mata Me’Asarah” The Divine Presence never descends below Ten Tefachim (slightly less than the height of an average table). Ah, but the Halachah states the ideal placement of the Chanukah Menorah is below Ten Tefachim. Why? All of the Sfarim say together that through lighting Chanukah candles in this space I can draw the Divine Presence into a place that it would otherwise not go. “L’Olam Lo Yarda Shechina L’Mata Me’Asarah” – except for during Chanukah.

Amazing. Between these two Halachos we gain a terrific insight into the goal of the Menorah. When we light Chanukah candles we have the ability to draw the Spiritual Aura of the Beis HaMikdash and Shechinah into places that are normally off limits. On Chanukah I can elicit the most profound levels of holiness in the darkest, farthest, most spiritually inactivated corners of the world – and my heart.

Perhaos now the opinion of Beis Shamai in better understood. We explained that the experience of Parei HaChag is the rare moment where the nations of the world receive the purifying effects of the Beis HaMikdash’s holiness. This is exactly what Neiros Chanukah seeks to achieve! The Korbanos of Sucos are the one time that the nations of the world can make there way inside the Beis HaMikdash to achieve purity. This same concept applies but perhaps in an even more accentuated form by Neiros Chanukah. For instead of allowing the nations of the world into the Beis HaMikdash – we bring the light of the Beis HaMikdash to them. The far corners the exile come alive.

And now we can answer our very first question as well. Why is it that Chanukah is placed at the darkest, coldest part of the year? Because we need Chanukah’s unique ability to descend to the lowest places and enliven them so that we can make it back into the light.

Souls chilled by the ‘winter’ that is our exile. Hearts exhausted as if at the end of a long day. The feeble-bodied and tired-minded. Chanukah brings the invigorating light of the Beis HaMikdash to them. L’Mata Me’Asarah. Parei HaChag. The darkest time of year.

The light of the Menorah envelops me in a spiritual reality of stimulation. Kindling them and absorbing their glow affects my soul and imbues it with wellsprings of inspiration that are merely waiting to be tapped into. Treasuries worth of inner-strength and courage come down to awaken the darkest most dormant levels of my being. With the proper mind-state I can walk away from Chanukah with the vesseles necessary to carry through the most difficult times.

We should be Zocheh.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Chanukah: The Illuminated Mind

The following is based on the Sfas Emes the Shmuzen of R' Yaakov Meir Shechter Shlit'a. Feel free to print this out and read it over Shabbos Kodesh - just please not during Tefilos!

The Neis, the miracle of Chanukah was historically the final event to be turned into an established Chag. The burning of the Menorah for eight days served as the last open miracle before the beginning of the exile that we still experience today.

All of the Sfarim HaKedoshim explain that the significance of this is that the light of Chanukah is the Chizuk, the source of strength that we need to carry on through the Galus and make our way to the Geulah. God sends us into the Galus with Chaunkah to protect us. The inner energies of Chanukah will provide us with what we need to make our way out and rebuild the Beis HaMikdash. Chanukah is our lifeline.

We want to tap into this, we want to access the history-shifting force of Chanukah, and we want to rebuild the Temple with it. Be we are yet to understand the dynamic of this connection. What about Chanukah will bring us back to the Beis HaMikdash?

So we need to identify two things: First, what is the Temple? We must seek to clarify the contours of its nature. What did it stand for and what spiritual vacuum is left in its destruction? Second, what is Chanukah? What is the inner meaning of the Mitzvah of the holiday? With the answers to two questions then our question will answer itself.

The root of the Beis HaMikdash is found the Torah HaKedoshah’s prototype for what a sanctuary is all about. The Mishkan that was built in the desert served as the archetype for a House for Hashem’s imminence amongst the people.

So how did we get the Mishkan?

Rebbe Nachman MiBreslev explains that when one does an Aveirah he brings within himself a Ruach, a spirit, a presence of Kfirah, of heresy. Similarly, the Kutzker Rebbe used to say that any Aveirah that a person does is really two Aveiros, for in the moment of the sin the person ‘conveniently forgot’ about the existence of God as to justifify the sin and therefore such an outlook is the beginning of Avodah Zara – idol worship.

At Har Sinai, when the Jews sinned with the Golden Calf they brought within their midst a spirit of Kfirah and Hester that was never previously experienced. It was the deepest fall in their young history.

Moshe Rabbeinu pleads for their forgiveness. He is not only asking Hashem to spare their lives – he is asking for much more. He is asking to spare their souls. He is beseeching Hashem to remove the heresy that injected itself into the veins of the people. He is asking God to cleanse the people of their spiritual corruption and touch their minds with Godliness once more.

So what is God’s response? How does Hashem show that He has forgiven and is ready to restore His presence amongst the people? He says, Let’s build the Mishkan. That is the sign of the forgiveness.

Why is this the indication of God’s return to the people’s awareness? The dynamic is as such: The Passuk says – V’Asu Li Mikdash V’Shanchanti B’Socham – And they will make for Me a sanctuary and I will dwell amongst them. Note that the verse does not say that Hashem will dwell in the sanctuary itself; that’s not the point of the Mishkan. The physical building in which there is a concentration of God’s presence is merely an external manifestation of the fact that God’s presence is resting in the hearts of the people. They are living with an awareness of the Creator. Their decision making processes are totally shifted and altered by a wave of holiness. Because God dwells in them, there is a physical manifestation that takes the form of a building.

It thus emerges that the destruction of the temple serves as an equally external manifestation of the reverse. Once Hashem’s presence no longer touches the hearts and minds of Am Yisrael then the structure that is designed to house His aura is automatically rendered useless. The building can stand but it will be an empty shell. When we gaze at Har HaBayis and see Churban, it is a reflection of a Churban in the inner framework of the people.

Geulah means returning to the state of mind where I sense Godliness inside of myself. When the people will attain V’Shachanti B’Socham then V’Asu Li Mikdash will happen by itself.

But we began with the assumption that the historical placement of Chanukah as the final holiday comes to show us that it will pull us through the exile and into the redemption. The question now becomes: How?

Well, we need to hone in. For it is obvious that Chanukah revolves around the Menorah. The Mitzvah of the holiday is the lighting of the Menorah. So really it emerges that candle lighting is the vehicle of redemption. The light of the Menorah is the one aspect of the Beis HaMikdash that wasn’t destroyed. The Avodah of Hadlakas Neiros Chanukah was handpicked by Hashem to be the central driving force of salvation.

Why the Menorah of all of the many vessels of the Beis HaMikdash? Why specifically the lamp? What’s so special about candles? Why is the Menorah divinely ordained to be the tool that will bring us back to V’Shachanti B’Socham?

So we need to ask: What’s a candle? We have a Pasuk in Mishlei that on the surface seems incomprehensible but when clarified will hopefully shift our perspectives towards a deeper understanding of the Menorah, our Neshamos, and how to achieve Geulah.

Ner Hashem Nishmas Adam Chofesh Kol Chadrei Vaten – The Candle of God is man’s soul, God searches out man’s inner-chambers.’ What in the world is going on here? God has a candle? What, He’s in the dark? He’s looking inside of men? What’s he looking for?!

Let’s say I’m in a dark room. It’s so void of light that I’m blocked off from having any basic level of perception of items that are in my immediate surroundings. I have no way of identifying, associating with, mentally extending myself into anything near me. I’m frozen where I am without any means of intellectually moving forward. So I light up a candle. The flame empowers me to begin to perceive things that were previously unattainable. My mind can now move outward and interact with the once locked-off world.

Hashem is in the same situation. He wants V’Shachanti B’Socham. He wants to extend Elokus into us. He deeply seeks to send forth His holiness into our lives. But there is a problem. We are dense and coarse. We are made of physical bodies that have a natural tendency to reject the unfamiliar realm of spirituality. So in such a situation He has no way of reaching into us. What will make such a thing a possibility?

The soul. The Chelek Eloka MiMa’al. An expression of celestial holiness that has been engrained into the human experience. Ah, now there is a way. Now, through the Neshamah, HaKadosh Baruch Hu has a way of extending His Presence to my inner-chambers, every limb, every last fiber of my being. My mind can become infused with Godliness because in the same way that I extend myself in the dark room with a candle, God extends Himself through my Neshamah. Ner Hashem Nishmas Adam.

This is the role of the Menorah in the Beis HaMikdash. Normal windows let light in. But Chazal explain that the design of the windows of the Beis HaMikdash was to let light out – proving an entirely different purpose. The Beis HaMikdash needs no exterior source of illumination. To the contrary – it lights up the rest of the world.

What is the light of the Beis HaMikdash? We explained that the Beis HaMikdash stood for something. Its presence was a message. The Beis HaMikdash declared, “Hashem is real. He’s inside of you. Live accordingly.” The Menorah is literally the source of that light. The purpose of the Menorah was to take the message of the Beis HaMikdash and deliver it to the people – to deliver it to the world.

Now everything comes together. The Menorah serves as the vessel that delivers to the world the message upon which a House of God stands. Thus if we need to attain that consciousness of V’Shachanti B’Socham in order to achieve the Geulah then there is no better vessel for the job than the Menorah. It is specifically the Menorah that equips us with the state-of mind needed to rebuild the Beis HaMikdash. The light of the Menorah envelops us in the vibrations of redemptive energy. With the proper focus it helps me reestablish and rediscover my relationship with my soul. And it is the communal attainment of that relationship that will build the Beis HaMikdash.

In my soul is the potential to attain and relate to Godliness in the confines of my personal life. The Menorah serves as the tool to help me access that consciousness. When I light my Menorah I am transported into the inner world of the Beis HaMikdash and the elevated state of existence that comes with it. This will bring the Geulah.

We should be Zocheh,

Friday, December 2, 2011

VaYeitzei: Dance Like Nobody's Watching

The following ideas have been adapted from the Chasam Sofer in Toras Moshe. Feel free to print this out and read it over Shabbos Kodesh, just please not during Tefilos.

In the beginning of the Parsha the Torah HaKedoshah sets before us a vision that is so majestic, a prophecy that reaches to such mythic proportions that without proper clarification it leaves us on the one hand awed by its beauty but on the other hand confused as to its meaning.

On his journey to leave Eretz Yisrael, Yaakov Avinu takes a detour and spends the night on the Makom HaMikdash – the future site of the Temple. As he rests, God shows him a ladder; rungs that are Mutzav Artza, they are rooted in the ground and they are also Magi’a HaShamaimah, they reach the heavens. The ladder is connecting heaven and earth. He sees spiritual beings ascending and descending the ladder. And the most spectacular of all – the Presence of God Himself is poised at the top.

Yaakov Avinu awakes from his slumber in a state of sheer awe from the experience and he says, “Achein Yeish Hashem BaMakom HaZeh Va’Anochi Lo Yadati” – Yes, there is God in this place. And I? I did not know.

There is a peculiar Midrash in the Tanchumah Yashan that stems from this divine encounter. Let’s read it together carefully and examine some of its depth. Yilamdeinu Rabeinu! Master, teach us! Mah Bein Chalomoseihem Shel Tzadikim L’Chalomoseihem Shel Resha’im? What is the difference between a righteous person’s dreams and those of the wicked? V’Ana Lahem: Tzadikim Chalomoseihem BaShamayim U’Ba’Aretz. He answered that the dreams of the Tzadikim are in the heavens and earth. V’Chalomoseihem Shel Resha’im Ainan BaShamayim U’Ba’Aretz. But the dreams of Resha’im are not in the heavens and the earth. Shene’emar: Va’Yachalom V’Hinei Sulam Mutzav Artza V’Rosho Magi’a HaShamaimah. As we see by Yaakov Avinu’s dream where the ladder was in the heavens and the earth.

Somehow, someway, this Midrash is telling me how to be a Tzadik.

You know, all things in the world have a causality that makes them exist and the results that come about as a result of their existence. The first part is called a Sibah –a cause. A Sibah brings something about. The second part is called a Siman. The way to notice the presence and effects of that ‘something’ is through the Siman that it gives off. The need for mass-production is the Sibah for a factory, and the pollution is the Siman of the factory being there.

Our Midrash has given us a Siman – a way of discerning if a person is good evil by examining the quality of his dreams. Just like you can tell there is a factory by noticing the pollution you can also determine the spiritual nature of a person by the quality of his dreams.

But this Midrash doesn’t give us a Sibah. It doesn’t provide us with a reason. Fine, a Tzadik has one kind of dream and the Rasha has a different kind of dream. The Tzadik’s dreams are in heaven and earth and the dreams of the Rasha are not. But why is this so? What about being a Tzadik makes one’s dreams span heaven and earth? What about being a Rahsa disallows such a possibility? The Midrash gave us a Siman and left us to unravel the Sibah.

For this we need to take a detour and analyze how one could serve Hashem like a Tzadik and one could serve Him like a Rasha.

In the Beis HaMikdash during the holiday of Sucos there was a nightly festivity called the Simchas Beis HaShoeiva. In other essays we’ve discussed why it was so joyous. There was fire juggling and all night dancing. The Tana named Hilel used to say about the party, “Im Ani Kan HaKol Kan! V’Im Ein Ani Kan, Mi Kan?” ‘If I’m here, everyone is here! And if I’m not here – whose here?’ The simple meaning of this statement is that Hilel is calling himself the life of the party. When I show up the party really starts. But when I decide to leave? Shut the music. Turn out the lights. The party ends.

The Haflah turns this statement of Hilel on its head. You see, sometimes there are those who, Chas V’Shalom like to get into Avodas Hashem because it makes them feel secure. In certain circles it’s the ‘in thing’ to be as Frum as you can. The more dramatic they sway and the longer their prayers, the more accessories or books that they amass, the more advanced their studies are, the flashier their Chesed (acts of charity) is the cooler they become. When one falls into such a situation, he is not serving God. Anything but. He’s serving his circle of friends and himself.

But sometimes we don’t care who is watching. We care about one thing and one thing only. What is Ratzon Hashem? We just want to do the right thing. We want to appreciate the world and connect to God with our learning. We want to refine our character and to as much Chesed as we can so that we can save the world. My consciousness spreads far and wide looking for my next opportunity to do something amazing. And it doesn’t matter what people say. If people try to get me down – it doesn’t matter. If it seems that someone else is doing better than me – it also doesn’t matter. I don’t need to compare myself to others. I’m not serving Hashem for anyone else other than Hashem. The whole world, with their chuckling and their raised eyebrows and their snide comments can go bother someone else. This is not about me. I don’t exist. No one exists. This is about HaKadosh Baruch Hu.

The first guy is constantly comparing himself. There is no sense of real security because he always has to second-guess himself. He constantly is looking over his shoulder to check if he needs to Daven a bit more intensely. He is always worried about what his friends will say.  But the second? What does he care about? He’s trying to be close to Hashem. He’s trying to be a Tzadik and he doesn’t notice who’s watching.

This is what Hilel was saying. I came here to dance. Not to show off. Im Ani Kan – If I’m here - if I look at myself as something substantial. If I convince myself that I’m something that I’m not. Then HaKol Kan – Everyone is here. All the pressure is on. Everyone is looking at me. My Avodas Hashem is an outcome of peer pressure. But Im Ein Ani Kan – If I’m not here – If my Avodas Hashem is not about myself, when my Avodas Hashem ceases to be a result of my insecurities then Mi Kan? Who is here to stop me? Who can hold me back? No one. Im Ein Ani Kan, Mi Kan?

Why was Hilel the life of the party? Because he danced like no one was watching.

What’s a dream? Chazal tell us that a dream is your mind revealing to you the common thread between all of your thoughts that day. So Yaakov Avinu’s dream is telling us about the inner workings of his mind. The mind of a Tzadik.

What did Yaakov Avinu say when he awoke from his dream? “Achein Yeish Hashem BaMakom Hazeh - Yes, there is God in this place. Va’Anochi Lo Yadati – And I? I didn’t know.” Yaakov Avinu would have gotten his point across just fine had he simply said V’Lo Yadati – And I didn’t know? What is V’Anochi Lo Yadati? What is the need for the extra word? Va’Anochi Lo Yadati means, ‘And I didn’t know myself.’ V’Anochi Lo Yadati is synonymous with Im Ein Ani Kan. I’m not aware of personal biases in Avodas Hashem. I don’t sense the need to prove myself to anyone. Im Ein Ani Kan – If I’m not here – Mi Kan? Who is here? Once I step outside of my self I can begin to feel God in my life. Because Anochi Lo Yadati – he was able to sense Achein Yeish Hashem BaMakom HaZeh.

Now let’s go back to the Midrash.

Master, teach us! What is the difference between a righteous person’s dreams and those of the wicked? He answered that the dreams of the Tzadikim are in the heavens and earth. But the dreams of Resha’im are not in the heavens and the earth. As we see by Yaakov Avinu’s dream where the ladder was in the heavens and the earth.

Yaakov Avinu succeeded in becoming selfless in his Avodas Hashem. Through V’Anochi Lo Yadati he attained the level Im Ein Ani Kan Mi Kan. His consciousness, his inner desire to seek out spirituality and to attain it surpassed his body and social structure and instead became universal. His mind had God at the forefront as he connected heaven and earth.

But here’s a pretty simple question: If not in heaven, and if not on earth – where is the Rasha’s dreams? He thinks about himself. Im Ani Kan HaKol Kan.

But this is not us. We live in a world where we can be like Yaakov Avinu. No one is watching. Life is a one-on-one with God. Every moment is a private date with the Master of the Universe. I don’t fall prey to the pressures of my surrounding. I do the best I can because that’s the only true representation of my self. I’m not in this for anyone but God.

When my Avodas Hashem stops being about the gratification of my ego or my friends then I can really soar. Once I stop caring about what people will say, when I don’t judge myself based on how the other guy is doing, when I don’t look back, when I dance like no one is watching, when I just try to achieve as much as I can for no other reason other than it’s Ratzon Hashem – then no one can hold me back. Im Ein Ani Kan, Mi Kan?

We should be Zocheh.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Toldos: Big Bang Theory

The following is based on the Maharal in Netzach Yisrael. Feel free to print this out and read it over Shabos Kodesh, just please not during Tefilos!

In the start of this week’s Parshah, we read as Yaakov Avinu buys the Bechorah – the Rights of the Firstborn from his brother Eisav HaRasha. And what did he buy it for? What was Yaakov charged for these prestigious privileges? A bowl of lentils. Eisav sells the holy Bechorah for some beans.

Now, Yaakov wasn’t cooking up lentils for no reason. Chazal explain that the preparation of lentils shows us that the day of that this transaction did not did not occur in a vacuum. This was the day of Avraham Avinu’s passing and thus Yaakov prepared lentils whose round shape symbolize and encapsulate the proverbial circle of life and death.

The day on which Avraham died served as a turning point in Eisav’s life. Within the spiritual black-hole generated by the Tzadik’s passing, Eisav chose to commit a number sins marking his decision to give up on a life of Kedushah and Tahrah and instead walk the path of darkness and corruption.

Even though these events are not explicit in verse, Chazal prove through the use of Drashos – analytical exegesis – that they in fact occurred.

On the top of the list of Aveiros that Eisav committed on that day was the moment that he was Kofer B’Ikar – he transformed into a heretic and rejected the existence of God. And how do Chazal learn this out? They see an extra word when Eisav agrees to sell the Bechorah, and this word tips them off to the extra, heretical intention that was going on behind the scenes. Let’s explain.

Eisav walks in and says, ‘Oy, I’m tired. Feed me that bowl of stuff.’ Yaakov replies, ‘Not for free. Let’s make a deal. My lentils for your Bechorah.’ Eisav considers the barter and says, ‘I’m Mamesh so tired I feel like I’m gonna die - V’Lamah Zeh Li Bechorah – of what use is the Bechorah to me? Pass me those beans.’ And the deal is done.

Now, in this Pasuk we openly see how Eisav is Kofer in the Chashivus of the Bechorah – he rejects the importance of the Rights of the Firstborn. He’s willing to trade it away for something far below its proper worth. But Eisav could have accomplished the same goal with one less word. He could have said V’Lamah Li HaBechorah – that would have the same exact connotation! So then why did he throw in the extra ‘Zeh’ in V’Lamah Zeh Li Bechorah?

From this Chazal understand that Eisav wasn’t just coming to be Kofer in the Bechorah, he was also coming to be Kofer in the added Zeh as well. And what is Zeh a reference to? Nothing other than HaKadosh Baruch Hu Himself, as the Pasuk says Zeh Keili - This is my God. Thus by adding the extra Zeh to his Kfirah in the Bechorah he also accomplished a Kfirah in Hashem as well.

A Maamar Chazal cannot be seen in a bubble. The Drashah and the Pasuk from which it came do not exist independently of one another.  The textual source from which a Maamar Chazal is extracted sheds crucial light on the nature of the Drashah itself. I have to see the Ma’amar Chazal through the lens of the content of the Pasuk that it emerged from. Chazal chose to introduce me to this teaching specifically with this Pasuk as its background. Otherwise they would have learned it out from another source.

With this in mind we are forced to sharpen our definition of Eisav’s heresy. He didn’t simply add on his rejection God with his roundabout rejection of Zeh. No. It’s much deeper. He rejected God specifically from within his rejection of the Bechorah! He became a Kofer B’Ikar through his Kfirah of the Bechorah. Well, what does that mean? We’ll need to take a detour.

The first Pasuk in the Torah states Bereishis Bara Elokim Es HaShamayim V’Es HaAretz – In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Chazal famously learn out that Bereishis means Bishvil Reishis – For the things that are called Reishis. It is because of things that the Torah calls Reishis that the world can exist. On that list is Am Yisrael, the Torah HaKedoshah, and specific Mitzvos that are called Reishis. For example Bikurim which is called Reishis Tvuaschem – the first of your produce. This Mitzvah entails bringing the first fruits of the field to the Beis HaMikdash.

What makes them so holy? Why can the world only exist because of Bikurim?

So a heretical philosopher will tell you the following: Any given thing can only produce something that it like itself. Water doesn’t produce fire and the opposite is also true. That being said, Yichud cannot produce Ribui and Ribui is incapable of generating Yichud. That which is unified and solitary will not generate multifariousness and multiplicity. Also, that which is dispersed and multidimensional will not produce something simple and whole. Thus, it is impossible that your monotheistic God created this world that has so many unrelated elements.

This is not our belief. We believe that HaKadosh Baruch Hu creates with ‘white light’ and we merely perceive it as many colors on the other side of the prism. This means that when God set the universe in motion all of the subsequently revealed energies were already present in the original spark. All life, every personal story, every everything that we see throughout the rest of history is merely an unfolding of that original creative force. It’s amazing that there was in fact a spiritual Big Bang. There is an original unifying energy that pulls together all the details in the world. Sof Ma’aseh B’Machshavah Techilah.

So the heretical philosopher will tell you that in an apple orchard one fruit blossoms, then a second appears, then a third, fourth and so on. But now we know that this is not true. Contained in the first apple is the potential for the rest of the orchard! Every other fruit is merely an unfolding of the latent energies that are already present in the first fruit.

Therefore, by holding the first - the Reishis - in high regard, when I designate the first fruit as a symbol of God’s unity, when I go ahead and bring that first fruit to the Beis HaMikdash and give it to Hashem I’m not merely giving Him one apple – I’m giving Him the whole field!

The Emunah, the faith in what Bikurim represents separates us from sacrilegious theorists. The concept of the Bikurim drives home the point that in this crazy, multifarious world of endless details – Hashem Echad – there is a unifying monotheistic force that holds it all together and gives it meaning.

The Bechorah is no different. The firstborn is called also called Reishis Ono. The world was created for it as well. Already present in the original son is potential of all future offspring. This explains why the original intention was for the Bechor - the firstborn - to be the Kohen, the priest. Bikurim re-enforce our Emunah in the Oneness of Hashem and therefore it’s intrinsically holy and the Bechor is fundamentally sanctified for the same reason.

We would look around the world and be led away from God and not towards Him. The Mitzvos of Reishis allow the world to exist in a context that we can be reminded that there is a unifying creative force, a common denominator, a Oneness to the world and history. The Mitzvos of Reishis save us from falling into Kfirah.

Let’s bring it full circle.

Now we can understand the depth of what Chazal were trying to teach us. V’Lamah Zeh Li Bechorah. We don’t learn that Eisav became a Kofer B’Ikar out of nowhere. Inasmuch as Eisav rejected the value of the Bechorah he simultaneously rejected the Oneness of God! By saying that the Bechorah is of no value he was also saying that the world we live in is essentially a world of dividedness and therefore it’s not a world that HaKadosh Baruch Hu governs. Kofer B’Ikar.

But what does this mean for me?

I look around my life and I see endless details. Bills and concerns. Different spheres of friends. A never-ending media barrage. A world of unbearable multiplicity and duality. I watch the news for fifteen minutes and each story turns my world upside down from a new angle. How am I expected to cope?

Knowing that all of the diversity in my life is coming from a Unified Source gives me the focus I need to sanctify all of my different endeavors for a Unified Purpose. When I clearly know that every situation is from Hashem I begin to uncover the inner wellsprings of inspiration needed to direct all of my responses towards Him. No matter where I end up. No matter what the universe delivers. The common denominator in all of my responses will be, ‘As long as it’s Ratzon Hashem.’

Friday, October 14, 2011

Sucos: Prophetic Hydration and Self Awareness

The following is based on content from the Sfas Emes, as it was elaborated and elucidated through discussion with Moshe Chayim Eade, Shlit’a. Feel free to print out this essay and enjoy it over Chag, just please not during Tefilos!

As we are taught, all Korbanos (sacrifices) were accompanied with the pouring of a wine libation on the Mizbeach; the altar. On Sucos, the practice of Nisuch HaMayim accompanied the wine.  This means that not only was wine poured; rather wine and water together were brought with the Korban.

The Gemara goes on at great length to describe the Simchas Beis HaSho’eiva, the intense festivities that came with Nisuch HaMayim. The holy priests would travel out of the temple and down to the Mei HaShiloach, a spring that brought forth a constant flow of fresh waters from the inner core of subterranean Yerushalayim. The Rishonim explain that this is water directly from the Six Days of Creation. This is vintage. Throwback. This was Mayim Chayim – water that’s Mamesh alive.

This water was brought up to the Beis HaMikdash with grand fanfare. Trumpets and lyres, song and dance set the tone. There was palpable electricity buzzing in the air. The sages, the precious saints of the Yerushalayim of yesteryear would rejoice and juggle torches.

It was truly a sight to behold. As the Gemara tells us, “He who has not seen the rejoicing of the Simchas Beis HaSho’eiva has not seen Simcha in his life.” And not only that, but Chazal also say, “Why is it called the Simchas Beis HaSho’eiva, the Rejoicing of the House of Drawing’? Because it was from there that they would draw Ruach HaKodesh, Divine Inspiration.” In the same way that water was drawn from the source, so too was Ruach HaKodesh being drawn down from lofty spiritual planes.

These are truly beautiful concepts. But we still fail to understand how or why. What’s so exciting the Simchas Beis HaSho’eiva? Why is it the truest kind of joy? And why does the Simchas Beis HaSho’eiva create a situation where Ruach HaKodesh can be drawn forth into a person’s heart?

The Sfas Emes explains that the connection between the Simchas Beis HaSho’eiva  and the receiving of Ruach HaKodesh is that just like a bucket is the vessel that draws forth and contains water, so too Simcha, true joy is the vessel used to draw forth Divine Inspiration. Thus, in the exceedingly joyous atmosphere of the Simchas Beis HaSho’eiva, Ruach HaKodeh becomes a possibility. And this makes a whole lot of sense in light of Chazal’s comment that the Divine Presence, the Shechinah, only rests in a place of Simcha.

He goes on to say that this is the Simcha of the verse in Bereishis, ‘VaYipach B’Apav Nishmas Chayim’ – and God blew into man’s nostrils a Breath of Life. This was the moment where the soul – the breath of God – entered into man and animated him. It is the source; the big-bang so-to-speak of the human experience. 

But we don’t understand what this means. What is the Simcha of VaYipach B’Apav Nishmas Chayim? And how is that Simcha synonymous with the joy of the Simchas Beis HaSho’eiva?

Well, to answer this question we need to better understand what is true Simcha. In the most basic sense it is happiness. But that tells us very little. The warmest sense of happiness, the type of happiness that satisfies the deepest place in our psyche is the happiness that stems from the security of self-awareness and self-knowledge. A man who walks into a business meeting with an air of preparedness completely diffuses the otherwise tense situation. He has his plan; he’s cool, calm, collected and organized. This inner security and harmony is the most serene feeling possible.

And what is happening in the verse of VaYipach B’Apav Nishmas Chayim? We are learning that source of human life is a Divine Breath. We are attaining the most basic and essential level of self-awareness. “I’m Mamesh Divine.” We are learning the true essence and nature of our identity. And thus, if the deepest and most satisfying form of happiness emerges from self-discovery, then being able to identify with my inner, divine, true self is the utmost gratification achievable.

Now we know that Simcha comes out of self-awareness. True self-knowledge brings me to realize that my most deeply rooted essence is a Divine Breath which is really an expression of Godliness. It is what the Sfarim call the Chelek Eloka MiMa’al, the Segment of Elevated Godliness. Therefore, my self-awareness is essentially an encounter with HaKadosh Baruch Hu! The real me is coming from, stemming from Him. And after all, what is Ruach HaKodesh? Ruach HaKodesh is the realization and acceptance of a Divine Revelation. Therefore, self-discovery and personal awareness as a manifestation of the Divine is in of itself a form of Ruach HaKodesh.

We are trained to think that Divine Inspiration is way out there. That one needs to meditate on foreign and esoteric concepts in order to attain spirituality and interface with Godliness. But we now see that this is not true.

We now understand that the simple recognition of our intrinsic Godliness creates the true joy of self-awareness and that is a real and attainable form of Ruach HaKodesh.

But what does that have to do with the theme of the Simchas Beis HaSho’eiva? Seemingly this relevant all year-round! Why do we need the Simchas Beis HaSho’eiva to teach us that the Simcha of self-awareness is Ruach HaKodesh?

Let’s Mamesh go into the heart of our emotions…

What is disappointment? Disappointment is the difference between my original expectations and the current reality. The greater the gap, the deeper the disappointment.

As we said, the Simchas Beis HaSho’eiva celebrates the Nisuch HaMayim. And what is so exciting? It’s the resolution of disappointment. Why? In the beginning of Creation, even before there was light there was water. V’Ruach Elokim Mirachefes El Pnei HaMayim – ‘And the Spirit of Hashem was hovering upon the waters’. All the water was close to Hashem. But then, on the second day God split the waters. He made the Mayim Elyonim and the Mayim Tachtonim – the Upper Waters and the Lower Waters. This is the greatest form of disappointment. The Mayim Tachtonim, the Lower Waters thought, ‘We used to be all the way up there, and now we’re all the way down. Their given reality couldn’t have been farther from the original expectation.

But the Nisuch HaMayim and the Simchas Beis HaSho’eiva that highlights it are together the processes that reunite the Mayim Elyonim with the Mayim Tachtonim. It’s the ultimate resolution of the water’s existential disappointment. We put the water on the Altar and raise it up to the level of  where it originally was. In a sense, the water once again gets to feel like its truest self. It goes back to it’s original state of being. Our Simcha of V’Yipach B’Apav Nishmas Chayim, our joy or becoming fully ourselves is one in the same the water’s returning to the status of V’Ruach Elokim Mirachefes Al Pnei HaMayim. The Jews and the water celebrate together.

How do we see this in the Torah? It emerges by the Akeida, the dramatic moment in the Torah where Avraham Avinu sends forth his hand to slaughter his only son as a sacrifice. Avraham is called out to from above, Avraham! Avraham! Don’t do it! Spare your son! You’ve already passed the test.

Why is Avraham’s name repeated when he is called? The Sfarim explain that in Shamayim there is portrait of me. This portrait dictates what I would look like if everything went right. What my life would be if I totally fulfilled my potential. This is the ‘me’ upstairs. Then there is me down here, the way that I match up. The difference between me down here and me up there is the root of spiritual disappointment.

Avraham’s name was repeated – Avraham! Avraham! – in order to let him know that the Avraham down here was identical to the idealistic portrait of Avraham up there. Through his tests, through his effort and growth he reached an internal wholeness and a total unification of self.

This complete inner dynamic proves to us (based on our definition of Joy) that Avraham Avinu was in total Simcha because of the Akeida. Because, as we stated above, the Divine Pressence and thus Ruach HaKodesh only appear in a place of Simcha, and had Avraham not had been in a place of joy he would have not heard the Heavens cry out ‘Avraham! Avraham!’ in the first place!

The Simcha of the lower Avraham matching the supernal Avraham draws from the same place as the Simcha of the Mayim Tachtonim finally reunifying with the Mayim Elyonim. But how is this my Simcha as well?

By putting together everything thaw we said, we can fully understand why Simcha is the vessel of Ruach HaKodesh, and why it is specifically the Simchas Beis HaSho’eiva that highlights this element:

After Yom Kipur, I’m pure again. The slate is clean. All the things that created the gap between the me that I’m supposed to be and the me that I really am are now gone. I’m fully myself. There is nothing that separates me from my personal V’Yipach B’Apav Nishmas Chayim. That’s the highest form of Simcha. I’m me. I’m back. ‘Me’ – in the truest sense of the word – is emerging once again. I once more sense my Chelek Eloka MiMa’al, my Godly spark. Tapping into this awareness is the inner tranquility of true Simcha and it itself is Ruach HaKodesh.

HaKadosh Baruch Hu should give us a Bracha to be able to really sense this. To be able to feel the joy pumping in my veins. To attain the realization that my truest self is Divine. To accept the Ruach HaKodeh that comes from fully knowing who I am. If we can take advantage of the moments that carry with them this exalted mindstate there is no doubt that we will live lives of true, deep Simcha, moving closer to HaKadosh Baruch Hu and ultimately bring the Geulah Sheleima!

Friday, October 7, 2011

Yom Kipur: Face to Face

The following is based on a conversation with HaRav Moshe Shapira Shlit’a. Please feel free to print this out and read it over Yom Kipur.

After forty days of preparation, after experiencing the fresh feelings of Elul, the anticipation as we moved towards and awe we felt on Rosh HaShanah, after praying and fasting and working on ourselves during Aseres Yimei Teshuva we’ve finally made it. We have arrived at Yom Kipur. A day that is called the Tachlis HaTeshuvah – the Apex of Returning. A moment on the calendar whose very essence is suffused with a force that returns all souls to the Divine.

The Passuk says, “Ki BaYom HaZeh YiChaper Aleichem L’Taher Eschem MiKol Chatoseichem” – For on this day He shall bring atonement upon you, to purify you of all of your sins. The Rambam (and this is found in earlier sources as well) learns from this verse that there is something intrinsic about this day that atones. There is an energy that is hardwired into this date - the tenth of Tishrei - that washes away sins. As he says himself, “V’Atzmo Shel Yom HaKipurim Michaper” – The essence of the day generates forgiveness.

This would be simple enough, but neither the Passuk, nor the Rambam stop there. “Ki BaYom HaZeh YiChaper Aleichem L’Taher Eschem MiKol Chatoseichem.” We already said what this means, but the Passuk throws in three last words: ‘Lifnei Hashem Tit’haru’, ‘In front Hashem shall you be purified.’ What is this addition? We were just told that there is an energy infused into the day, what is added by Lifnei Hashem Tit’haru?

Furthermore, the Rambam doesn’t simply say that V’Atzmo Shel Yom HaKipurim Michaper. It’s true that the day purifies, but it only does so LaShavim – to those who are doing Teshuvah. Once you are already in the zone, only then can Yom Kipur cleanse the soul. So what is it? Is it the day, or is it me?

Another question: Since the beginning of Chodesh Elul we end our Davening with L’David Hashem Ori V’Yishi. King David says that God is his light and salvation. Subsequently we realize that God is our light and salvation. Elul and Tishrei are a time of repentance and judgment. We’d then expect to add verses that deal with repentance to our prayers. But the problem is that ‘L’David’ seemingly makes no mention of Teshuvah. It speaks solely of Emunah and Bitachon – faith and trust in Hashem. “Hashem is my strength, whom shall I dread?” “Though a war will rise up against me, it is in Him that I shall trust.” “On a day of evil He shall protect me in His sanctum.” My fear and enemies would have consumed me, Lulei He’Emanti L’Ros B’Tuv Hashem, had I not believed that I would see the goodness of God.

Not one word about Teshuvah! What’s going on? If we are going to add Tehilim to our prayers, at least let’s make is appropriate! Let’s make it fit the season!

A third question. The Rambam, when detailing how to do Teshuva gives a Girsa, a base-text that serves as a model. This styling includes all the necessary components for a valid Teshuvah. Chatasi, Avisi, U’Pashati Lifanecha V’Asisi Kach V’Kach. God, I sinned on all sorts of levels; on purpose, by accident, due to a lack of self-education. I did x, y and z. I’m not happy about it. I wish I didn’t do it. I’m not going to do it again.

Our rough translation left out one word. Chatasi Avisi U’Pashati Lifanecha – I sinned an all sorts of levels in front of you. This is an odd addition. It’s seemingly not needed. The line would make perfect sense without it. And if that’s the case, then why include it? And in the non-obligatory additional paragraph in Shmona Esrei, we include this ‘Lifanecha’ – what does it add? Why does my Teshuvah need to include Lifanecha?

Furthermore, in the blessing in Shmona Esrei that is supposed to inspire is to do Teshuvah, we say V’Hachazireinu B’Teshuvah Sheleima L’Fanecha, Baruch Atah Hashem HaRotzeh B’Teshuvah. …And return us in a full repentance before You. Blessed are you Hashem who desires Teshuvah. Once again, the line would make perfect sense without the added ‘Lifanecha’. What is it coming to do?

And if we want to know what’s really going on with Lifanecha then we need a more exact translation of what the word means. While it is used as ‘In front of You’ or ‘Before You’, it literally means ‘Towards Your Face.’ Plugging this definition into everything that we asked, what is this obsession with God’s face as it relates to Teshuvah?

The Kotzker Rebbe once said that every sin carries with it a semblance of heresy and idol-worship. Why is this so? Because the only way that I could cognizantly reject the Divine Will would be if I didn’t believe in Reward and Punishment or if I conveniently forgot about the omnipresence of Hashem. Either way; doing a sin requires some form of denying the existence of God, because if I really believed that He was Mamesh there, if I knew that He was right next to me then of course I wouldn’t do it. Shivisi Hashem L’Negdi Tamid.

Based on this, the underlying power of Teshuvah would need to be a return to the awareness that God is an all-encompassing reality. He totally surrounds me. He is with me and watches me every second. He is standing right next to me and pumping me with life even in the moment that I go against His Will! Once we understand that a sin stems from ignoring God, we learn that rectifying that misgiving is not simply not doing it again, it’s not just fixing the bad trait, rather the essence of Teshuvah is primarily based on bringing HaKadosh Baruch Hu back into my life and staring Him face to Face.

Teshuvah doesn’t just mean admitting that I did something wrong. It’s not just saying Chatasi, Avisi U’Pashati. It’s not just fixing the problem by requesting V’HaChazireinu B’Teshuvah Sheleimah. That’s nice, but that’s not Teshuvah. Teshuvah is Chatasi, Avisi U’Pashati Lifanecha. It’s V’HaChazireinu B’Teshuvah Sheleimah Lifanecha! It’s only Teshuvah if it’s based on a return to an awareness of the Divine.

The Kedushah and Taharah attained via Teshuvah comes as a result of an encounter. It manifests itself on the heels of a connection. The realization of God as a real and meaningful part of my life opens up avenues of connection that were previously closed.

Now we understand why L’David is the perfect passage of Tehilim to add to our prayers. In order to fully tap in to a window in time that presents itself as an opportunity for Teshuvah we need a constant reminder of what Teshuvah is really all about. No series of verses says it better. Passuk after Passuk drive home the message: Hashem is real. He surrounds me and fills my life. When I’m with Him, it’ll all be okay. As the Passuk in ‘L’David says, ‘Es Panecha Avakesh’ - ‘I seek your Face.’ I seek to have that intimate connection with you. From the other side of the street you can still feel a connection with a person with whom you make eye-contact. Es Panecha Avakesh, a longing to attain a life infused with Shivisi Hashem L’Negdi Tamid is the basis of all Teshuvah.

Thus the Rambam makes perfect sense as well. There is a waterfall of Taharah coming into the world on the day of Yom Kipur. But if you are not amongst the Shavim, if you don’t turn around and get under the water then it can’t cleanse you.

A Parable: In the room in which I’m currently sitting there is Chinese folk music blaring. Why can’t I hear it? The radiowaves are there, I’m just not tuned into the proper station. So too on Yom Kipur. On this day an energy fills the world. The station to tune in to is called ‘Lifanecha’.

Lastly, the Pasuk that we started with now dances with clarity: “Ki BaYom HaZeh YiChaper Aleichem L’Taher Eschem MiKol Chatoseichem.” For on this day He shall bring atonement upon you, to purify you of all of your sins. ‘Lifnei Hashem Tit’haru’ In front Hashem shall you be purified. Or, perhaps more accurately, ‘Towards Hashem’s Face shall you be purified.’ Because if it’s not Lifnei Hashem then it can’t be Tit’haru.

This is Mamesh such a big job. This is an Avodas HaChayim, this is a job that will take us our whole lives. Time and time again we may catch ourselves and see how we’ve been caught off guard. This is the bottom line – what it all comes down to. Es Panecha Avakesh. Ah! Face-to-face with the Creator. This is Yom Kipur. Lifnei Hashem Tit’haru.

HaKadosh Baruch Hu should give us a Bracha that we should be able to tap into our inner wellsprings of motivation and inspiration. We should associate with the place within ourselves that is crying out – ES PANECHA AVAKESH! Auch a mindset, if we can be meritorious enough to carry it into the year, will no doubt bring us to a life of Simcha and Sheleimus, moving closer to HaKadosh Baruch Hu and ultimately the Geulah Sheleimah!