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Chanukah: Connections

The verse in Mishlei (3:16) states “אֹרֶךְ יָמִים בִּימִינָהּ, בִּשְׂמֹאולָהּ עֹשֶׁר וְכָבוֹד” – length of days with the right, and with the left wealth and honour. This is clear we are not talking about political parties! Rather as Rashi says: “The Right” refers to the deeper dedication one has for spirituality and the merit thereof: length of days and wealth and honour, whereas “The Left” refers to the general fulfillment of the Torah, however with little or no depth to it.

We see a similar terminology regarding the menorah in the Mishkan. The Sforno comments that the right side of the menorah represents the “Rightists” and the left side represents the “Leftists”. What does this mean? Here too it could refer to the two types of approaches that both have a place in Torah albeit one is more preferable to the other.

However there is another approach that this refers to the different approaches people take to life. There those people who spend their time in spiritual activities: Rabbis, Sofrim, Gabaim etc. and these are represented by the 3 branches on the right. Then there are those who spend their day in more mundane activities: doctors, accountants, drivers etc. and these are represented by the three branches on the left.

What the Torah is teaching us is: that both of these ways of life are crucial for the Jewish community. One cannot manage without the other, and only when both sides recognize the validity and importance of the other can true spirituality come forth. This is why the branches of the Menorah are essentially connected and all would face the middle light which represents the Shechina – the divine presence.

This is what Chanukah is all about: the spiritual and physical connection with the result of the redemption of Am Yisrael.

A Freilicha Chanukah

Pesach: Be Different

The verse when referring to the wicked son’s question states: “  וְהָיָה כִּי תָבֹאוּ אֶל הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר יִתֵּן ה’ לָכֶם כַּאֲשֶׁר דִּבֵּר וּשְׁמַרְתֶּם אֶת הָעֲבֹדָה הַזֹּאת.  וְהָיָה כִּי יֹאמְרוּ אֲלֵיכֶם בְּנֵיכֶם מָה הָעֲבֹדָה הַזֹּאת לָכֶם” – and when you will come to the land that G-d has given to you as promised and you shall observe this service. And if your sons shall say to you: what is this service for you? And you shall answer this is the Pesach sacrifice etc. Why does the Torah use the terminology “וּשְׁמַרְתֶּם” which indicates more than just observe, but to actively ‘guard’ this sercvice? The Torah uses this terminology in a few places and the explanation is: that just keeping the laws is not enough, rather one has to put into place extra protection to ensure that ultimately everything will be carried out the way it should be.

This protection can at times constitute enactments, stringencies, fences etc to make sure we are not detracted from the path. This is what the Gemarah in Moed Katan says: “וּשְׁמַרְתֶּם את משמרתי” and you shall observe my observance: make extra protection on top of extra protection to ensure that the Mitzvot will be kept in their entirety. This is what raises the hackles of the wicked son: What is all the service for you? Why do you need all these extra things? Why burden yourselves with more, is it not enough what the Torah itself has said?!

And our answer is: “זבח פסח הוא לה אשר פסח על בתי בני ישראל במצרים” – this is the Pesach for G-d who skipped over the homes of Bnei Yisrael in Mitzrayim etc. All this is to remind us that we got out of Egypt and weren’t destroyed with everyone else. And why was it that we were saved? The answer is because we were different. We stayed separate with different names, clothes, and language. What these things have in common is that all of them are not required by the Torah and their whole purpose is to create that extra barrier between us and the nations of the world.

And it was specifically those things that gave us the protection and strength needed to survive and not be swallowed up in the Mitzrayim experience. Like anything else in life one could lose perspective within all the extras and forget about the essentials, therefore a correct balance is needed. We need a clear picture as to what the Torah expects from us, and to put into place anything that is required in order to enable us to reach that goal.

This is what ultimately kept the uniqueness of Bnei Yisrael and entitled them to leave Mitzrayim to become the chosen nation. B”H we should also ensure our uniqueness and we too will merit to a full freedom from all our enemies, and live to see the Korban Pesach brought in Yerushalayim with the building of the Beit HaMikdash במהרה בימינו.

Purim: Children Learning Torah

After Haman comes back from leading Mordechai on the king’s horse around Shushan and tells his wife and advisors what took place, they answer him with some very strange words: “אִם מִזֶּרַע הַיְּהוּדִים מָרְדֳּכַי אֲשֶׁר הַחִלּוֹתָ לִנְפֹּל לְפָנָיו לֹא-תוּכַל לוֹ–כִּי-נָפוֹל תִּפּוֹל, לְפָנָיו” If Mordechai comes from Jewish descent, you will not be able to deal with him and ultimate result will be your downfall. The language is very strange “אִם מִזֶּרַע הַיְּהוּדִים” – If he is from Jewish descent etc. why? If it has been clear all along that this is the case.As the verses earlier states that when Mordechai refused to bow down to Haman and Haman inquired why? “ויגידו להמן, לראות היעמדו דברי מרדכי–כי-הגיד להם, אשר-הוא יהודי” – and they told Haman regarding Mordechai that he was Jewish! When Haman came back from the banquet and saw Mordechai the verse states: “וכל-זה, איננו שווה לי: בכל-עת, אשר אני רואה את-מורדכיי היהודי–יושב, בשער המלך” – and all this is not worth anything to me when I see Mordechai the Jew sitting at the king’s gate.

Why then “if”? The Boyaner Rebbe zt’l answers this with another question: Why after the decree Modechai didn’t respond in the normal way? Haman paid a bribe, let’s pay a bigger bribe! They want to kill us, let’s prepare for war and with Jewish ingenuity beat them at their own game! What does he do? He gathers all the kids (22000) and they go and learn! Why? Haman’s advisor’s and wife immediately understood. When it comes to bribery, the non-Jews had access to much more, and even with all the Jewish ingenuity in battle the odds were overwhelming. However there is one Jewish weapon that is so powerful that nothing can stand up to it and that is the strength of “תינוקות בית רבן” – children learning Torah.

This is what they said to him “אִם מִזֶּרַע הַיְּהוּדִים כו” – if from the descendents of the Jews etc. i.e. the kids involved with Torah, that is weapon Mordechai is using, then there is no hope and future for you. This is the power of education and kids learning Torah. May we merit today true redemption just like the Jewish nation did in the time of Mordechai.

Tu Bishavat: Giving What you Can

This week B”H we are coming up to “Tu Bishvat”, the time that is defined as “ראש השנה לאילנות” – The New Year for fruits. In practical terms this means that just like Rosh Hashana is a time for evalution and sorting out priorities, so too this is the cutoff point for one to complete the process of “תרומות ומעשרות” – the tithing one has to give from their fruit, and to make sure that which we are supposed to give has been given, since one cannot mix produce from one growth year to another. One of the aspects of “תרומות ומעשרות” is that only we have given what we should, at that stage the remainder truly becomes ours and until then we cannot use or eat the fruit.

This is a very important message for us. Many of us spend a lot of time searching for true meaning and purpose in our individual lives. Here too there is a process to go through, and part of that is through our giving from ourselves to others what we can and should, whether it is financial or emotional. One can only come to a true undertading of themselves, their cpabilites and responsibilities, once they have given to others what they can. At this stage once can truly benefit from the “fruits” of their labors.

Tu Bishavat Sameiach

Succot: Our Temporary Lives

Having just come through Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, hopefully, we have a true perpective on the reality of life and that the ulitmate pleasure is in the world-to-come where one can have a closer and more intimate relationship with Hashem. However, knowing something and living it are two differnt experiences. This is what Succcot is all about, to remind us how temporary our lives really are. Therefore we go into a temporary dwelling for 7 days to gain a truer and more real perpective of what we already know.

Chazal tell us that the Mitzvah of Succah is equated to all other Mitzvot. The question is why? There are such harder Mitzvot to fulfill, and sitting in the Succah does not really require that great a sacrifice? Rather what is means is as we said before. A person needs to know that everything in this world is not permanent and is only there for us to use in the service of Hashem. Once a person realizes this, his whole perepective and attitude to how he does Mitavot will change and he will go about it with much more joy and a lighter step.

This is why on Succot there is the Mitzvah of “והייתה אך שמח” to be joyous in our opportunity to really unerstand what it is all about. And then we can apply all these feelings of joy and positivity to all the other Mitzvot that we do. Therefore one who is a “מצטאר” – has physical discomfort to be in the Succah (i.e. raining) he is exempt from the whole Mitzvah. One without the other does not work. Sitting in the Succah without joy, defeats the whole purpose of the succah in the first place.

May we all merit to sit in our Succot with great joy and feeling, so that we can take these things and live like that the rest of the year while fulfilling the rest of the Mitzvoth.

Elul: Taking Time for Teshuva

The Gemarrah in Masechet Avoda Zara brings the story about R’ Elazar ben Durdaya who at a certain point in his life, his moral behavior was totally unacceptable. It was so despicable, that the word went out that even if he would do Teshuva – repent, it would never be accepted! The Gemarrah continues to describe that when R’ Elazar heard this, he went and sat betwween two mountans and aked that they would pray to help him to do Teshuva, whereas they answered: we have our own issues to deal with and we are not available for you. He then turned with the same request to the heavens and the earth and all the constellations, and each time he got a similar response.

At this stage he realized that turning to others would not help so he placed his head between his knees and cried until he expired. The Gemarrah concluded that a Bat Kol – a heavenly voice announced: R’ Elazer Ben Durdaya is welcomed into the world to come. Rabbi Yehuda Hanasi on hearing this said: there are those who take a lifetime to acquire their Olam Haba and there are those who do so in an instant.

There are many questions to ask and many messages we can take from this story, however one message stands out clear: we spend a lot of time looking for all sorts of ways to really make a change and to become better people. We will go and speak to a Rabbi, go and listen to a lecture, read a book etc however in essence many times we are running away from real responsibility “אין הדבר תלוי אלא בי” – it only depends on me! Instead of looking elsewhere, the answer is really much closer to home.

We can spend hours learning Mussar without shedding a tear of remorse, or we can spend a few minutes of deep personal introspection which will have a much greater impact. It is also important to point out that although Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi said one can acquire his would to come in an instant, there is no question that the value of such an “Olam HaBa” is not the same level as an “Olam Haba” that one worked his whole life to attain.

Let each of us take those few moments to look and realize that the answer to most things is truly within ourselves, and B”H as individuals and as a nation G-d will look upon us favorbly and grant us all a true Ketva Vachtima Tova.

Rosh Hashanah: School is Back!!!

From one aspect, the fact that the 1st of September this year is so close to Rosh Hashanah, it is quite hard on the teachers due to the fact that by the time the kids are a finally a little settled, they immediately go again on holiday. However from another aspect the whole concept of starting a new year is directly related to Rosh Hashanah.We see the different ages coming in. those who are in their last year have a certain attitude towards school, whereas those who are only starting in 1st grade have a totally different attitude.

If we try and analyze these different approaches, we can take some very important messages for our own “New Year”.
How we come into Shul and speak to Hashem, is totally depended on our attitude. If we come in as finalists and a feeling that we have done our part and now we are just finishing off, the chances are, just like we would waste the entire year with limited achievement, we will end up squandering our opportunity to meet and talk to Hashem with a result of limited achievement.

However if we come in as 1st graders, with a it bit of shyness, with a bit of humility, a bit of uncertainty, then the push to succeed will be much greater and so will our achievements.

May all of Am Yisrael have a Ktiva Vachatimah Tova

Elul: Improving Our Connections

The month of Elul is a time for a person to reevaluate his life and the direction it is taking.
This is a period of introspection, both on his relationship between himself and G-d, and his relationship with other people.
As we see during the High Holiday prayers, this process focuses on 3 aspects: Tefila (prayer), Teshuva (repentance), and Tzedaka (charity).
All of these are hinted in the word “אלול”.

There is a verse “ומה ה קלקיך את לבבך ואת לבבב זרעך” where the first letters are an abbreviation of the word Elul and they relate to the essence of Teshuva.
Similarly there is another verse “אני לדודי ודודי לי” which relate to the essence of Tefila.
And there is a third verse “איש לרעהו ומתנות לאביונים” that relates to the Mitzvah of Tzedakah.

These three aspects altogether, combine all the necessary components for a true comprehensive look into oneself.
The Teshuva process clarifies in one’s mind who he is and what his focus should be.

Charity is the practical application of the interpersonal relationships that one has to improve.
And Tefila is the doorway we have to speak to Hashem to encourage and strengthen our spiritual relationship.
May Hashem give us all the ability to improve and deepen our connections, to others, to Hashem and ultimately to ourselves.

כתיבה וחתימה טובה

Pesach: Reconnecting

A few days ago I ran into a friend of mine and he told me that the main funding for his work had fallen through and as a result of that he had not been paid before Pesach. All he had in his account was 24 NIS. Not knowing what to do he went to ask his Rabbi and he was told: Pesach is also known as חג האמונה – the Chag that relates to our close relationship to Hashem and our deep trust we have in him. Therefore he should go ahead and prepare for the Chag as usual (within reason) and Hashem will provide.

I feel this is also very true in regards to the world events that are happening around us today.

We are left with almost no credit in the bank. The nations of the world seem to ignore our plight and our need for self survival, and even our erstwhile ally America, seems to be heading down that path. What do we do? How are we going to survive?
The answer is the same the Rabbi gave to my friend.

This is a period of אמונה, a time for reconnecting in the deepest way to our creator. If we understand how deep this trust can go and apply it to our lives, than just like in the time of יציאת מצרים where Hashem showed his greatness to those who trusted him, so too Hashem will reveal himself again to us, give us the strength of character to stand up to what is right, and give us the proper guidance to live in a way worthy of our ancestors whom had received the Torah at Har Sinai.

May we all merit a חג כשר ושמח, and to see the fulfillment of the verse: “ונאכל מן הזבחים ומן הפסחים” in the rebuilding of the Beit Hamikdash במהרה בימינו אמן.

Pesach: Extra Effort

The verse when referring to the wicked son’s question states: “והיה כי תבאו אל הארץ אשר יתן ה לכם כאשר דבר ושמרתם את העבודה הזאת והיה כי יאמרו אליכם בניכם מָה הָעֲבֹדָה הַזֹּאת לָכֶם
” – and when you will come to the land that G-d has given to you as promised, and you shall observe this service. Andf if your sons shall say to you: what is this service for you? And you shall answer this is the Pesach sacrifice etc.

Why does the Torah use the terminology “ושמרתם” which indicates more than just observe, but to actively “guard” this service? The Torah uses this terminlogy in a few places and the explanation is: that just keeping the laws is not enough; rather one has to put into place exta protection to ensure that ulitmaely everything will be carried out the way it should be This protection can at times constitute of enactment, strigencies, fences etc. to make sure we are not detracted from the path. This is what the Gemarah in Moed Katan says “ושמרתם את משמרתי” – and you should observe my observance: make extra protection on top of extra protection to ensure that the Mitzvot will be kept in their entirety.

This is what raises the hackles of the wicked son: What is all the service for you? why do you need all these extra things? Why burden yourselves with more, is it not enough what the Torah iself has said?!

And our answer is: ” זבח פסח הוא לה אשר פסח על בתי בני ישראל במצריים ” – this is the Pesach for G-d who skipped over the homes of Bnei Yisrael in Mitzrayim etc. All this is to remind us that we got out of Egypt and weren’t destroyed with everyone else. And why was it that we were saved? The answer is because we were different. We stayed different with names, clothes, and language. What these things have in common is that all of them are not required by the Torah and their whole purpose is to create that extra barrier between us and the nations of the world.

And it was specifically those things that gave us the protection and strength needed to survive and not be swallowed up in the Mitzrayim experience. Like anything else in life, one could lose perspective with all the extras and forget about the essentials, therefore a correct balance is needed.

We need a clear picture as to what the Torah expects from us, and to put into place anyting that is requireed in order to enable us to reach that goal. This is what ultimately kept the uniqueness of Bnei Yisrael and entitled them to leave Mitzrayim to become the chosen nation. B”H we should also ensure our uniqueness and we too will merit to a full freedom from all our enemies, and live to see the Korban Pesach brought in Yerushalayim with the building of the Beit Hamikdash במהרה בימנו אמן
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