CONTENTS AT A
THE TEN DAYS OF
REPENTANCE AND THE THREE WEEKS
A TSHUVA MESSAGE FOR ALL
TWO DOZEN KEYS FROM OUR
SAGES TO SUCCEED IN DIVINE JUDGEMENT
THE OPPORTUNITY OF TSHUVA -
PART ONE: SETTING THE TONE FOR ALL YEAR ON ROSH HASHANAH
THE OPPORTUNITY OF TSHUVA -
PART TWO: "BECOMING" TORAH AND MITZVOS FOR YOM KIPPUR
1. SUKAS SHALOM (THE SUKA
2. SUKKOS VS. SANCTIFYING
AND IDOLIZING SUPERFICIALITY
3. THE MIRACLE OF THE
WHY IS SIMCHAS TORAH ON
SHMINI ATZERESS INSTEAD OF ON SHEVUOS?
SIMCHAS TORAH - MAKING
TORAH RELEVANT TO "KIDS AT RISK"
1. BALANCING THE
MATERIAL AND THE SPIRITUAL
2. HAPPY CHANUKAH - EVERY
THE MEGILLAH AND
HASHGACHA PRATIS - PRECISE DIVINE PROVIDENCE IN OUR LIVES
1. REMOVING THE CHOMETZ
FROM THE HEART
2. MAKE YOUR PESACH
EXPERIENCE AND FAMILY RELATIONSHIPS MORE MEANINGFUL AND INSIGHTFUL
3. PESACH AND MIDOS -
4. PARSHAS BEHA'ALOSCHO:
PESACH AND THE SECOND CHANCE
THE PARALLEL BETWEEN
THE JOURNEY FROM EGYPT TO SINAI AND THE JOURNEY FROM SINGLEHOOD TO MARRIAGE
THE TEN DAYS OF REPENTANCE
AND THE THREE WEEKS
A TSHUVA MESSAGE FOR ALL
During the Ten Days Of Repentance from Rosh
HaShana [the beginning of the new year] to Yom Kippur [the Day of Atonement], we focus on
correcting ourselves, repairing our spiritual shortcomings and repenting of our sins.
The Torah refers to Rosh HaShana as the day
of the shofar blowing [Leviticus 23:24]. The Klee Yakar, one of the classic commentaries
on the Torah, asks a profound question [commenting on Leviticus 23:16]. If the essential
purpose of Rosh HaShana is tshuva [repentance], why does the Torah call Rosh HaShana the
day of the shofar blowing? True, blowing the shofar is a mitzva required on Rosh HaShana
but the shofar is used as a call to our doing tshuva. Why does the Torah not refer to Rosh
HaShana as the day of tshuva, which is the main point of the holy day?
The Klee Yakar gives a beautiful answer. If
the Torah would have referred to Rosh HaShana as the day of tshuva, you might have thought
that you only have to do tshuva and behave like a human being one day of the year. The
Torah is signalling to us, THROUGH THE MESSAGE OF ROSH HASHANA THAT WE HAVE TO DO TSHUVA
EVERY DAY. In fact, Ramban, in his famous ethical letter to his son [Igerress HaRamban]
says we have to introspect morning and night, twice a day, over the last half day, and do
tshuva twice every day.
In the three weeks leading to Tisha B'Av we
focus on the destruction of the Bais HaMikdosh and tragedies of golus. These resulted from
causeless hate, loshon hora, serious interpersonal shortcomings. It is a superb time for
reflection and correcting our sins in general and our interpersonal sins in particular.
The Steipler was asked why tzoros
(troubles, tragedies, suffering) were increasing at such a huge and alarming rate among
klall Yisroel in the generations after World War Two. More and more people are: struck by
serious illnesses and injuries, unable to find mates, in marital trouble, losing little
children, dying young and leaving large families, mentally ill, etc. The Steipler replied
that before World War Two, Hashem sent kapara (atonement) from outside (pogroms,
persecutions, genocide). Now with more liberty, Democracy, freedom; there are fewer
despots that can just ride in and torture, scatter or annihilate large populations of
Jews. Since kapara can no longer come from without, the kapara has to come from within.
These frightening words give insight why our generation is so replete with more tzoros
than anyone remembers. What is more terrifying: people avoid going to the root of the
problem which requires DISCONTINUING DOING THINGS FOR WHICH G-D MUST KEEP SENDING KAPARA.
In the weekday Shmoneh Esray (after the
three initial brachos), we pray "Chonain Daas (bestow intelligence)," then
"Hashivainu (help us return from sin back to Torah) and then "Slach Lanu (pardon
and forgive us)." This is significant. The first thing we must ask for is intellect.
Then, THE FIRST THING WE MUST USE OUR INTELLECT FOR IS TO DO TSHUVA AND ABANDON SIN WHICH
BROUGHT US GUILT AND PUNISHMENT. Only after tshuva shlaima (complete return to Torah) we
can talk to G-d about pardon.
A sin's degree of seriousness is determined
by the Torah's punishment for it. The most serious sins are those punished by: korais
[extermination of one's soul and lineage], death, gehenom extended beyond a year, and ANY
INTERPERSONAL SIN FOR WHICH KAPARA AND THE VICTIM'S FORGIVENESS HAVE NOT BEEN OBTAINED.
In my marriage counseling work, I hear
people say that they will say Tehillim [Psalms] for marital peace when THEY STUBBORNLY DO
NOT MAKE THE CHANGES THAT WILL BRING SHALOM BAYIS. Throughout the community, victims of
tragedy or hardship, and concerned people, run to Tehillim (which is meritorious) BUT DO
NOT RUN TO DO CHESHBON HANEFESH (SPIRITUAL ACCOUNTING) AND TSHUVA SHLAIMA (COMPLETE
PERMANENT RETURN FROM SINFUL DEEDS OR PATTERNS) - ESPECIALLY THE SEVERE ONES WHICH CARRY
SERIOUS AND DANGEROUS PUNISHMENTS! THEY DON'T HONESTLY CONSULT A ROV. TEHILLIM WITHOUT
TSHUVA DOES NOT TAKE AWAY THE ROOT OF THE PROBLEM. This type of thing is nothing new. The
gemora calls it immersing in a mikva with a bug in your hand. You cannot obtain
purification while you continue to hold a source of impurity.
Doubly tragic is that HASHEM DOES NOT WANT
THE DEATH OF THE SINNER. HE WANTS HIM TO DO TSHUVA AND BE A TZADIK [one completely
righteous] TO WHOM G-D WOULD GIVE LIFE, KINDNESS AND ABUNDANT PARDON AND BLESSING. G-d
wants every sinner to return from sins, serve G-d with loyalty and a good attitude, and
merit happy life. It sounds simple, but the yaitzer hora [evil inclination] does his job
of confusing and tempting so very well. Human responsibility to use free choice to
overcome the yaitzer hora must be executed even better!
We read extensively about abuses and injury
by closest family members on those who are stuck, vulnerable, dependent and defenseless.
Individuals pain, embarrass, slander, torment, belittle and deprive their children and
spouses. Throughout our society, individuals wrong others - in business, with neighbors or
relatives: hurting feelings, parking in front of a driveway or double parking even though
this traps the other, anger, lying, putting on tzitzis so that it slaps the eye of the guy
in the next chair, wasting another person's irreplaceable time (which is considered a form
of theft WHICH CAN NEVER BE PAID BACK), disturbing another's concentration by talking in
shul, gluing posters up on shul walls and others' property without permission (essentially
vandalizing)...the list is almost endless. These sins against people are in addition to
all of the sins between man and G-d which cause disastrous punishments [korais or death].
The gemora tells of a sinless rabbi
(Pinchos Ben Yair) who was not hurt by a snake bite. He said that the snake's poison does
not kill, sin kills. The Torah calls Rosh HaShana "The day of shofar blowing."
Tshuva is more essential to Rosh HaShana than shofar (which is a REMINDER TO DO TSHUVA).
Why does the Torah not refer to Rosh HaShana as "The day of tshuva?" The Klee
Yakar [commentary to the Torah] writes the reason the Torah does not call Rosh HaShana the
day of tshuva is so that you would not mistakenly think tshuva is required only one day a
year. Tshuva, and behaving like a mentsh, is required EVERY DAY at all times. Igerress
HaRamban tells us to analyze our deeds every morning and night and do tshuva for
everything wrong we did for the previous half day. Tshuva has required steps:
1. sincere remorse for the wrong,
2. privately admitting it to G-d,
3. abandoning the wrong and accepting upon
oneself for the future to do instead what is right, and, if involving wrong to any other
person or people,
4. gently talking it out and making it up
to each person as needed to appease and to obtain voluntary forgiveness, lasting
friendship and complete peace.
The Torah commands (Leviticus 19:2),
"Be Holy." Rashi says this is achieved by separating from sins. Being holy is
not optional, not "extra credit;" it is a fundamental requirement of every Jew.
On Yom Kippur, we read from the prophet Jonah. G-d commands him to go to the city Ninveh
to tell the people to either do tshuva from their sins or be annihilated. G-d repealed the
decree of punishment and pardoned the city when He saw that they did tshuva and FIXED
THEIR DEEDS. It is only the concrete separation from sinful deeds that fulfills our
obligation to be holy and only return from sinful deeds IN ACTION that brings G-d's
pardon. As Pirkei Avos tells us, "Study is not the main things, only action is."
When we put the Torah into the ark, we say
[Eicha 4:21], "Return us, G-d, to you and we will do tshuva, renew our days as they
were before." Why would we cite a verse about tshuva while returning the Torah? If we
don't do tshuva, we "put the Torah away" and abandon it. Only if we do COMPLETE
TSHUVA every time we have to, make up everything we have to with everyone we wronged, and
return fully AT LEAST TWICE EVERY DAY, we can truly attach to Torah and Hashem so as to
"renew our days as they were before"..."renew our days" - because we
do return/tshuva on all days, so days are "as they were before" - before the
sins. This way, we'll merit the blessings, life, kindness and pardon that Hashem wants to
give us all!
TWO DOZEN KEYS FROM OUR
SAGES TO SUCCEED IN DIVINE JUDGEMENT
In the Torah Portion "Nitzavim," the Torah says [Deuteronomy 30:2],
"Return until the Eternal your G-d and obey His voice." This portion is always
just before Rosh HaShana. It is significant that this portion is read at this time, when
return [tshuva, repentance] are particularly called for and when G-d is "found"
and "near" [Isaiah 55:6]." But note that the Torah uses an unusual term,
"Return UNTIL Hashem." This signifies that one must return as much as he has to,
to change his ways, correct his faults, heal wounds with and resolve wrongs caused to
other people; doing all that is necessary, in order to reach fulfillment of the will of
The Torah says, also in Parshas Nitzavim, that there will be people who say that the
Torah is too difficult; it is too hidden or too far from them; but, "It is not hidden
from you nor too far away from you. It is not in Heaven that one should say 'Who will go
up to Heaven for us and take it down to us, that we will understand it and do it?' And it
is not across the ocean that one should say, 'Who will cross the ocean for us and take it
to us that we will understand it and do it?' Rather, the Torah is very near to you, in
your mouth and in your heart that you shall do it [Deuteronomy 30, 11-14]."
The Torah here is telling us that the commandments are accessible IF one wants to do
them. The Torah is telling us HOW a person could come to say the Torah is too hard, too
unrealistic, too unreachable. He says, "I will understand and then I will do."
In both cases, when he says that the Torah is up in Heaven and across the ocean, he asks,
"Who will bring it, that we understand and do it?" He puts his understanding and
approval of the Torah before his acceptance of and commitment to it. He also asks,
"Who will bring it," in other words, "Who will do my job for me?"
When the Torah was given, the people said, "Na'aseh vinishma [All which G-d said
we will do and then we will understand," Exodus 24:7]. The Jewish people accepted the
Torah with the axiom that the commitment was not dependent on understanding [not dependent
on justification before acceptance] and was accepted with the axiom that WE have to do it
ourselves - not make it someone else's job or responsibility. The obstacle is NOT how far
the Torah is from the person who falls short of its fulfillment - it is how far the person
HIMSELF is from the Torah. It is BECAUSE he says he must understand before he accepts
commitment to the Torah that he considers the Torah to be far away from him and that, in
his mind, it must be brought to him by someone else. He is in the "backwards
world" [Bava Basra 10b]. "Says the lazy one, 'There is a lion in the way,'"
Proverbs 22:13]. This person must "Return until Hashem," do as much as it takes
to align himself with Torah, do all that is necessary to accord himself with the will of
An apikorus saw Rava learning with such deep concentration that he cut his finger,
which bled without his noticing. [Referring to "naaseh vinishma - the Jewish People
will accept the Torah and then understand it," the apikorus said] "You impetuous
nation. Your mouths [at Mount Sinai] preceded your ears and you do so still now. First you
should listen and only if you can do the thing, accept [Torah]." Rava answered,
"Of we who go in pureheartedness it is written [Proverbs 11:3] 'The pureheartedness
of the righteous will guide them'" [Gemora Shabos 88a-b].
Rashi comments on, "Who go in pureheartedness." "We go with G-d with a
perfect heart the same way as those who act from love, and we rely on Him that He will not
steer us wrong with a thing which we cannot withstand."
The Mishna (Avos, chapter one) tells us, "Learning is not the principal thing but
rather action is." The primary determining factor as to whether one fulfills the
Torah is his actions. Similarly, the Chazone Ish said that the first criteria for
determining if one is an observant Jew is fulfillment of all of halacha [practical law].
The Torah tells us that returning "until" Hashem, doing His will, without
hinging it on our understanding or any preconditions, is [Deuteronomy 30:6] "In order
that you live." Hashem wants that the Jew return, do mitzvos, be honest and generous
and fair with people; G-d wants us to live and to receive His blessings [Ezekiel 18:5-31].
G-d loves us and knows what is best. He only directs us to fulfill the mitzvos because
that will benefit us the most. The Torah Jew has complete confidence that everything that
the Torah wants from us will only be the best for us.
The very same Heaven, where the lazy or evasive person complains the Torah is, is
brought as the very witness that G-d gives us the choice of life and blessing or death and
curse [Deuteronomy 30:19]. It is up to us to "Choose life," that we may be
allowed by Hashem to, indeed, live. By this coming in the Torah reading that is just
before Rosh HaShana and the Ten Days Of Repentance, we see that this is the
"ticket" to a good year, to a year of life and blessing.
Blessings and good decrees can only come upon one who is a "kailee [vessel]"
to receive them. Otherwise, G-d's gifts will not come, or will not be kept. The way one
behaves directly impacts how Heaven behaves with him/her. Heaven is particularly strict
about interpersonal matters. Remember that our exile is due to interpersonal failings such
as sinas chinam [causeless hate] and lashon hora [damaging, embarrassing or derogatory
speech]. One who hurts another or his property cannot be forgiven by Heaven until forgiven
by the one he/she harmed.
To merit the bounty that Hashem wants to give us, our sages told us to strive to
conduct ourselves sincerely and consistently all the time in the following matters, and to
strengthen ourselves exceedingly in them during Ellul and the Ten Days of Repentance. Here
are twenty four practical Torah keys to meriting good decrees and succeeding in Divine
1. Learning Torah with diligence on a regular schedule; 2. Precise, careful observance
of all halacha; 3. Scrupulous observance of mitzvos, particularly those which are
foundations of Torah: shabos, yomim tovim, family purity, morality between men and women,
koshruss [dietary laws], and all interpersonal or financial matters; 4. Learning Mussar
[self-perfection and spiritual elevation studies]; 5. Faith and Trust in G-d, especially
at times of difficulty; 6. Devotion in prayer and blessings and, in particular, answering
"Yehay Shamy Rabo..." with full concentration; 7. The trait of patience; 8. The
trait of mercy; 9. To look away and not be strict with people or "what is coming to
you;" 10. To judge people favorably with benefit of doubt; 11. Guard your tongue (be
careful what you say or write); 12. Have fear of judgement in your heart, to motivate
yourself to do tshuva and purify yourself; 13. Take on "chumros" [stringencies]
even if they are not your custom; 14. Strive with all your might to engage in needs of the
Jewish public, with your personal service and/or with your money; 15. Bring merit to the
Jewish people in Torah AND mussar; 16. See to it that G-d is sanctified through you; 17.
Do frequent acts of kindness that help or benefit others; 18. Pursue peace and forgive
those who wrong you; 19. Guard against harming others in any way or doing what they won't
like; 20. Proper and holy conduct in shul (synagogue), particularly not walking in front
of one who is praying and no talking; 21. Do tshuva [repentance for wrongdoing or
failings] at least twice a day, morning and night; including working steadily on
"self training" and breaking your will, for the will of G-d; 22. The trait of
humility; 23. Speak gently with people and 24. Give derech eretz (civil, polite and
thoughtful conduct) and kavod habrios [dignity and importance] to people.
THE OPPORTUNITY OF TSHUVA - PART ONE: SETTING
THE TONE FOR ALL YEAR ON ROSH HASHANAH
[The reader is also directed to the
material on tshuva/repentance in "Personal Growth And Self-Perfection".]
The Torah says "viholachta
bidrachov" (go in G-d's ways) and "acharai Hashem Elokaichem tailachu" (go
after G-d). These tell us to emulate G-d's behaviors and midos. The verse in Job/Eeyov
tells us "im tzadakta ma titain lo" (if you are generous to G-d, what do you
give Him). G-d is infinite and all-sufficient. He needs and takes nothing. He is only a
giver. King Solomon tells us "soneh matanos yichiyeh (the one who hates gifts will be
alive)." We see that a Jew must be a giver - emulating G-d thereby - and must hate
being a taker. Each gives according to his abilities and blessings. A wealthy person gives
charity, a sensitive person gives help and kindness, a talented talmid chochom becomes a
rov, educator or dayan. When each gives according to his material and spiritual resources,
he is a credit to G-d, Torah and the Jewish people. One who loves taking has no connection
to G-d. Going through life, without it be a way of giving to G-d, Torah and the Jewish
people, is a CONTRADICTION. The Jew is a giver.
In every walk of life, whether a person is
working or learning, each Jew must be scrupulous and an "ambassador for Hashem"
in his Torah practice and in all of his daily behavior. When the person's midos, conduct
or halacha observance are compromised or deficient; and he does not seriously work on his
midos, behavior and personal shortcomings; he is not deserving of being called a Torah Jew
or the benefits of good decrees from Heaven.
Chapter 51 in Psalms is called "Perek
Tshuva [Chapter Of Repentance]." Upon recognizing a sin or fault, one should be
contrite and work on it. A verse from this chapter is used as the beginning of every
Shmoneh Esray that every Jew prays three times every day, "Hashem open my lips that
my mouth tell your praises." Associating Perek Tshuva with prayer tells us that
prayer is an act of introspection: "Am I worthy of what I need and ask for?" If
one has been in error, let him repair it. King David is telling us that a significant part
of effective tshuva is to improve oneself AND strengthen efforts to tell others about
Torah. If you have taken away from Torah, the repair can come from adding Torah to the
world, spreading and improving Torah knowledge and observance in the world. Every one has
their tests. The Mesilas Yesharim tells us that every moment of life is a test, given for
the purpose of our passing it and moving on to the next moment with its test, given by
Heaven for us to pass, and so forth, throughout life, so that we each can earn eternal
Perek Tshuva also says, "G-d, give me
a pure heart and renew a correct spirit within me." Tshuva can only take real root,
and endure, if one's heart is pure and his reasoning is correct in the eyes of Hashem.
Ralbag (to Proverbs 3:8) says that only
Torah can cure one from bad midos and concepts, but only if the person regards the Torah
as nourishment for the soul, the way food is nourishment for the body. One must learn
Torah entirely with the attitude that he is nourishing his neshama, which must become
evident consistently in practical action and behavior all day, and in elevation of midos
King David tells us, "The Torah of
Hashem is perfect, returning the soul...the laws of G-d are straight, making happy the
heart; the commandments of G-d are pure, bringing light to the eyes" [Psalm 19:8-9].
One can be truly happy only if he has Torah that is straight; with no compromising or
warping. One can only be truly knowledgeable if one has Torah that is pure. Only the Torah
of Hashem is perfect. One can only increase his perfection as a person, and as a soul, if
his Torah is perfect [Rashi to 19:8]. Being a Torah Jew is an opportunity to achieve
spiritual perfection, true service of Hashem and optimized olam habo [eternal life].
Perverting or weakening Torah, and its application to practical life, is a tragic waste.
Chazal call a person who has a lot of Torah knowledge but who does not internalize, embody
or apply Torah "a donkey carrying a box of books." A Jew is the "image of
G-d," and, to make this meaningful, the Jew is obligated to emulate G-d's deeds and
traits in daily life and practical relating with other people. Achieving these noble
goals, in real and consistent terms, is to fulfill the commandments "Be holy"
[Leviticus 19:2], "And you shall speak them [Torah words;" Deuteronomy 6:7],
"Go after G-d" [Deuteronomy 13:5] and "Walk in His ways" [Deuteronomy
The Torah calls Rosh HaShanah "The day
of the shofar blowing." The Klee Yakar says that the Torah intentionally did not call
it "The day of tshuva," which is more essential to Rosh HaShana than the shofar
(the shofar is a REMINDER TO DO TSHUVA). Why does the Torah not refer to Rosh HaShana with
what matters most about that day? The Klee Yakar writes that the reason that the Torah
does not call Rosh HaShana the day of tshuva is so that you would not mistakenly think
tshuva is required only one day a year. Tshuva, and behaving like a mentsh, is required
EVERY DAY AT ALL TIMES. Igerress HaRamban tells us to ANALYZE OUR DEEDS EVERY MORNING AND
NIGHT AND DO TSHUVA FOR EVERYTHING WRONG WE DID THE PREVIOUS HALF DAY. For each thing
which requires tshuva, we shall do twice a day all the required steps: sincere remorse,
privately admitting the wrong to G-d, abandoning the wrong and accepting for the future to
do instead what is right, and, if involving wrong to any other person or people, gently
talking it out and making it up to each person as needed to appease and to obtain
forgiveness and peace.
THE OPPORTUNITY OF TSHUVA -
PART TWO: "BECOMING" TORAH AND MITZVOS FOR YOM KIPPUR
[The reader is also directed to the
material on tshuva/repentance in "Personal Growth And Self-Perfection".]
The midrash says that Heaven informed the
Tanna [sage of the Mishna], Rabbi Yehoshua, that his partner in Gan Aiden [Eternal bliss]
would be a certain butcher. Rabbi Yehoshua spent his entire life in Torah, mitzvos and
holiness. He wanted to understand why his partner in eternity would be a plain workingman.
He traveled to the town in which the butcher lived and met him, asking, "Tell me what
you do and what is your work." He replied, "I am a butcher and I honor my
parents by feeding, clothing and washing them." Notice that Rabbi Yehoshua had not
yet asked him about what spiritual merits the butcher might have. Yet, the butcher said,
in answer to what he does, that what is primary in his life is honoring his parents.
When Jonah went on the boat, the sailors
asked him who he was and what his work was. He answered, "I am a Jew and I fear G-d
in Heaven" [Jonah 1:9]. Jonah's essence was not his occupation - it was that he is a
Jew who serves G-d. What a Jew does with his day is subordinate to the fact that a Jew's
main job, his essence, his identity, is to serve and fear G-d, to spend his life doing
mitzvos...the will of Hashem. All throughout every day, in everything he does, his focus
is his relationship with G-d and His service. When one views his life, no matter what his
daily occupation might be, as being DEFINED by serving G-d, he fulfills the verse,
"In all of your ways, know Him" [Proverbs 3:6] and he can merit the same place
in Heaven as a holy sage of Israel. It is no accident that the book of Jonah, with this
message, is read on Yom Kippur, when Heaven decides our fate for the coming year!
The Torah is a complete package that stands
on a foundation of good midos [character traits], good-heartedness, straight hashkofos
[views], halacha [Torah law] observance and high behavior standards, especially for
interpersonal behavior. One genuinely dedicated to Torah and serving Hashem scrupulously
observes all of the Torah. Someone who picks and chooses his mitzvos is serving idolatry
(with himself the idol), not G-d or His Torah!
Rabbi Elimelech of Lezinsk said, "A
person is born only for the purpose of perfecting his nature." The midrash says,
"There is no real joy except joy of wisdom...if there is wisdom in a person, this
person studies mussar. If the person has no wisdom in him, he is not able to learn mussar
[Yalkut Mishlay 909]." The siddur says, "Blessed is our G-d Who created us for
His honor, and separated us from those who err, and gave us the Torah of truth and gave us
the chance to earn eternal life. May He open our heart in His Torah, and place in us love
and fear of Him, that we do His will and serve Him with a complete heart, in order that we
not come to emptiness or to dismay" [Uva litzion].
The Torah says (Deuteronomy 4:39),
"And you will know today and you will return it to your heart...". Rabbi Yisrael
Salanter (mid 19th century) was one of the greatest Torah analysts of human nature. He
says that this verse addresses two levels of human reality, 1. knowledge and 2. heart. In
the Torah's need to be explicit about there being these two levels, we learn that the
distance between knowing something intellectually and really absorbing it (into the heart,
where it becomes genuinely assimilated into you) is as great a distance as the difference
between knowing something and not knowing it at all. Torah is for internalization and
application in "real life," so that the Jew responds to all stimuli with Torah
A well known story is told of Rabbi Yisrael
Salanter in which he tells how he came upon one of his fundamental principles of mussar
(Torah self-elevation). He took his shoes to a shoemaker for repair. The sun was going
down. It was getting darker and the shoemaker only had a little bit of candle left. Rabbi
Yisrael offered to come back the next day. The sky was getting dark and if the little bit
of candle would finish, there would be no light. The shoemaker wasn't finished with the
repair of the previous customer's shoes. The shoemaker assured the rabbi that he needn't
bother to come back tomorrow. "Don't worry. As long as the candle burns, I can
repair." These words hit Rabbi Salanter hard. He realized that these words were a
secret to human growth and purpose. As long as the candle burns...as long as one is still
alive - I can repair...myself as a human being. Even someone older, more set in one's
ways, one can always work on oneself, as long as one still has the gift of life. One's
primary purpose in life is to grow, properly use free will choice, serve G-d and earn
merit at all times.
"Blessed is the man who does not go in
the counsel of the wicked and who does not stand in the place where sinners remain and who
does not sit in the proximity of scoffers. His only desire is the Torah of G-d and he will
devote himself to His Torah day and night. He shall be like a tree planted by streams of
water that will give its fruit in its season and its leaf will never deteriorate and all
that he shall do will be successful" [Psalm 1:1-3].
G'mar tov - May all Israel internalize
Torah and Mitzvos and, thereby, merit Heaven's decrees for a completely good year!
1. SUKAS SHALOM (THE SUKA
OF PEACE) - WHAT SUKA AND LULAV TEACH US ABOUT THE JEWISH HOME, READINESS FOR MARRIAGE
AND MARITAL PEACE, VALUES, BEHAVIOR AND ATTITUDES
The holiday of Sukos, and its mitzva of
lulav, give us some wonderful insights into what a Jewish marriage is supposed to be.
Let us start by reading portions of two of
the Torah's verses in Parshas Emor (Vayikra 23:42-43). "You will DWELL in suka booths
for seven days...in order that your generations will know that I made the people Israel
DWELL in suka booths when I took them out of the land of Egypt."
Many people know that Chazal say that
finding a person's mate is as difficult as opening the Yam Suf [Reed Sea] (Gemoras Sota
and Sanhedrin plus midrash Beraishis Raba). Note that the gemoras relate this statement to
a second marriage but the midrash does not qualify this, enabling us to apply it to a
first marriage). Chazal learn this from Tehillim (Psalm 68:7), which says, "G-d makes
singles DWELL in a house and takes out the jailed ones to kosher prosperity." From
this verse, we see that Hashem causes a single (unmarried) person dwell in a house, i.e to
be married, freeing them from the prison of solitude. In the two verses in Vayikra, we saw
reference to the verb "dwell" also.
A suka is a dwelling that was composed by
Hashem in a cloud in a desert (Sefer HaToda'a). It was very non-tangible and non-physical.
Yet, that was called "dwelling" by the Torah. We see that this is indeed the
truest form of dwelling because Hashem is creating that in which we were dwelling in the
desert. Hashem can make a home in the wilderness out of clouds and that has more realness
and tangibility and substance than the firmest physical house. Consider that Egypt and
Paro were mighty and wealthy. Egypt was the world's strongest military power, highly
civilized and educated. Egypt's borders were locked. No one could go in or out of Egypt
without the country's permission. You would have thought that having a firm, tangible home
in Egypt in those days would mean you have a solid and secure residence. Yet, Hashem
destroyed the homes and even the entire country. He took away their security and their
rulership and brought the Jewish people out from among them so that the Jewish people
could see that earthly protection is no protection. Hashem is the only One who provides
security, dwelling and protection. Even an intangible cloud of glory, with no physical
substance, offered true protection under the shadow of Hashem's suka. This, the Torah
testifies, caused the Jewish people to dwell - to have a real residence - even in an open
desert. It also says in Tehillim (Psalm 127:1), "If Hashem will not build a house,
those builders who toiled to build it did so in vain."
The S'fas Emmess points out that the name
of Hashem "Eloka" has the same letters as "ohel (tent [alef, heh, vov,
lamed])." This was the kind of home or dwelling that the Jewish people had in the
desert. Hashem did miracles for the Jewish people while in the desert; including
sheltering us, feeding our entire nation and protecting us under His clouds of glory
(ananay hakovod). We left Egypt following Hashem and His word, with emuna (faith). We had
no shelter, no food, no protection of any kind. We were leaving a civilized and built up
land with houses to dwell in. We followed Hashem into the midbar - an open, hot desert -
just on the basis of His telling us to. We had nothing but Hashem and he took care of all
of our needs. He provided us with every manner of protection and security. Eloka was our
ohel - Hashem was our dwelling and protection.
When Dovid HaMelech tells us that Hashem
makes the single individuals dwell in a house, taking the jailed ones out to kosher
prosperity, Chazal tell us that the jail that is referred to here (in Tehillim 68:7) is
Egypt. But in our parallel, it also means when they are single - unmarried and alone.
Hashem miraculously brings a husband and a wife together to make them into a married
couple, to bring them to where they find each other through the Providential course of
their lives (hashgacha pratis). Hashem brings the two singles out of the jail of their
singlehood, of their being alone, one without the other. Hashem takes these two single
individuals and, by bringing them together, causes them to dwell in a house, causing them
to constitute a house. This is just as miraculous as when He brought the Jewish people
from Egypt, through the Yam Suf, to Mount Sinai, which also is a parallel to getting
married. At Sinai, Hashem was the choson/groom, the Jewish people was the kala/bride; the
creation of the covenant at Sinai corresponded to a marriage.
The Jewish people went through the Yam Suf.
A sea does not open up, never mind to avail dry land to walk on, so that a person or
nation can get to the other side. But, for the Jewish people, Hashem made a miracle. They
went through the sea on dry land. The walls of the sea parted. It is just as miraculous,
difficult, impossible for someone in the jail of singlehood to get himself freed to find
and marry his/her "basherte" [destined mate] until Hashem intervenes, gets
involved and makes it miraculously happen. Then the person is taken out of the jail of
singlehood corresponding, in the analogy, to the Jewish people being miraculously taken
out of Egypt through the Yam Suf to Sinai. And the single man and woman form a house with
kosher prosperity. Rashi comments that Hashem took the Jewish people out of Egypt at the
"kosher" time. It was spring time when the weather was not too cold or too hot.
It was the most fitting time to travel on foot in the open for a lengthy journey. When
Hashem brings the bride and groom together, it is the "kosher" time in their
lives, when they are ready for the journey of marriage.
When we got to the desert, Hashem caused us
to DWELL in suka booths. He showed us, this way, that when we have nothing tangible or
physical, that does not mean that we are without security. When Hashem takes care of us,
THAT is security. He not only fed us, he protected us from snakes and scorpions and the
heat. To our flesh and blood eyes, Hashem brought us to a wilderness that would ordinarily
be dangerous. Hashem destroyed the physical civilization, homes and military might of
Egypt. Similarly, G-d wants the single to destroy his inclination to be physical,
material, to be combative with other people, to focus on security defined by things of
this material world. Only when the single goes forward with emunah (faith in Hashem and
loyalty to His will) to cause him/herself to be a person who can DWELL, in a spiritual
sense (like the suka), does Hashem take the single out of the prison, the Egypt of
singlehood, at the right time, to go through the Yam Suf of his/her life, to be able to be
brought to his/her wedding to DWELL in a house as a husband and wife. That is when they
will be freed and living with "kosher prosperity."
During Sukkos we have the mitzva of lulav.
Lulav is a very important reference for our analogy. The lulav is the Talmud's classic
case of the prohibition of doing any mitzva by means of a sin. If X steals Y's lulav to
perform the mitzva, X achieves no mitzva. No matter how smug or holy he feels as he shakes
the fancy $200 lulav, in the eyes of G-d, his theft leaves him nothing but a repugnant
There are many cases, whether you are a
single person alone, dating, engaged or married, where you try to do a mitzva through a
sin. For singles, there are four examples of theft that I can think of offhand in dating.
If you are not taking someone seriously, or you are treating someone neglectfully or
hurtfully, or if you are seeing more than one person at a time, so that it is impossible
to really be giving fair and total consideration to either of the people that you are
simultaneously seeing, this is a form of theft. It is deceptive. You are stealing the
person's ability to explore the relationship with you or to believe that you are giving
him/her genuine consideration. This violates several sins: 1.kavod habrios (requisite
human dignity), 2. ganayvas da'as (misleading, deception, stealing another's ability to
know truth), 3. bitul zman (stealing and wasting time, which is something you can never
pay back or replace, making this a very serious sin; this includes showing up late for a
date or going on vacation for a few weeks when someone is waiting to go out with you and
not seeing anyone else), and 4. bitul momon (wasting money, such as when a woman goes out
with a guy she is not really considering seriously so that she can get a free meal; for
the dates, he spent the money on food, transportation, flowers or entertainment for
nothing; such a woman is a thief of the man's money). The person claims, "I'm trying
to get married. It's a mitzva, it's exalted, it's proper at an adult age to get
married." A meritorious thing only comes through meritorious means. Torah, halacha
and mussar have to accept the means by which one strives to become married or to conduct
marriage. If you ever do anything to hurt, neglect, shortchange or disrespect another
person, that is nothing but a sin. Any mitzva that comes through a sin remains nothing but
I see in my practical counseling, husbands
and wives, in their relationship failings, actively hurt each other or neglect to do
necessary good or responsible things for each other. I've seen cases where the husband
doesn't come home at night or comes home very late and doesn't care about his wife. He's
not interested in spending time or building a relationship. He's going though motions. I
know a case of a wife who wouldn't clean the house because she just was too lazy. She
couldn't afford a maid and the house was always a repulsive shambles. This drove the
couple apart. Each spouse has responsibilities, duties and roles. Besides practical
activities, this includes attitudes and midos. Neither spouse ever has any permission or
right to hurt or shortchange the other, whether actively through what they do or passively
through what they neglect to do. Either way, when one conducts the marriage through
something that is sinful or at odds with what the couple owes to the relationship, that
remains nothing but a sin.
A lulav represents and corresponds to the
Jewish people. It also represents and corresponds to Torah. It is the main one of the four
species that we hold and do the mitzva with. It is the one which receives the blessing. It
is the one to which two other of the four species are tied. It is the one that is held in
the right hand (the hand of strength and emphasis). The four species are to be
"hadar" (glorious, exalted, beautiful to the utmost). A person, tzelem Elokim
(the image of G-d) and bonim atem (the beloved child of Hashem), is hadar. The person one
is married to is beautiful, the image and beloved of Hashem, His son or daughter. That is
not someone who anyone has any permission to mistreat or neglect in any way. One's spouse
is for treating with honor, peace and generosity. The mitzva of lulav represents the
Jewish people and the Torah. It is symbolic of unity, blessing and a strong bond. G-d
brought a husband and wife together to build a home. Eloka is ohel - a home is G-dly.
Hashem put us into the desert and there He took take care of us. He showed us that
spirituality is the real security, protection and sustenance. That is how husband and wife
are to treat each other. They dwell together. Just as Hashem took care of us, fed, clothed
and protected us in the desert, marriage partners DWELL together as a couple and give care
and security to each other. Hashem made us DWELL in the suka. He showed us that the
emphasis is the spiritual. There was no security in the mighty and tangible civilization,
in the strong physical house. Hashem's caring for us in the desert is the model of taking
care of, sustaining and protecting us.
A home is not of solid walls or any
earthly, materialistic aspect. A home has a spiritual orientation and priorities. Hashem
takes a single person out of the "Egypt of his/her singlehood" to DWELL in and
to constitute a home. This requires that the couple take care of each other, their
children and others in the Jewish community - feeding, protecting, caring for and helping
others with kindness, accessibility, a sweet and pleasant attitude, diligence,
responsibility, humility and generosity. This is approaching marriage correctly. In reward
for DWELLING this way, Hashem is telling us that He is going to take care of us the way we
take care of people and use the home as a DWELLING used for His service. This is what
Hashem wants - and what we must want. On Sukkos we have ushpizin, guests; again signaling
that the home is to be used for kindness, spirituality and caring for others. Chazal say
that if you spend Yom Tov without having guests, you are only kind to your belly, which is
disgusting to Hashem. When we care for others, Hashem cares for us.
On weekdays our focus is more material and
mundane. On Shabos and holidays our focus is spiritual and sublime. Accordingly, on Friday
night and holiday nights, we modify the text of the nightly prayer
"Hashkivainu," said before the evening Shmoneh Esray. Instead of saying,
"Who always guards Israel," we say, "Who spreads the suka-shelter of peace
('sukas shalom') over us." Instead of focusing on the need for protection,
represented by night and darkness, as we do on weekdays; we focus, on shabos and Yom Tov,
on a blissful sense of peace, free of discord, as our Father in Heaven receives His people
with protection and lovingkindness (Rabbi Shimshon Rafael Hirsch). We see again this image
of suka symbolizing peace, harmony, security and lovingkindness. Again, the message is
that the suka represents that we can and should DWELL as Hashem ultimately wants us to.
Shabos and holidays are spiritual days. When we live with a spiritual focus, Hashem
provides us with the resources and ability to DWELL in a "suka of peace."
Hashem wants a home to be a place in which
the people are secure and cared for in an ohel (home) that stands for Eloka (G-dliness),
the way Hashem took care of the Jewish people in the midbar after taking us out of Egypt
to "marry" us at Mount Sinai. The single individuals come out of the state of
singleness to DWELL together in a home to take care of someone else, that it be kosher
(proper, fitting) in the eyes of Hashem; modeling his/her conduct after Hashem; going in
the ways of Hashem; to look after, care for, protect, to be generous, to provide for needs
and to mean well for the other person; and to do all this in a manner of hadar (grandeur,
glory, the most beautiful way). The four parts of the species come together in an aguda
achas (a unified band). A husband and wife are, likewise, unified and peaceful, and
thereby DWELL in a home with kosher prosperity. They live together in a true home - a
spiritual suka, an ohel that is Eloka, G-dly, a dwelling the way Hashem wants.
2. SUKKOS VS. SANCTIFYING
AND IDOLIZING SUPERFICIALITY
While our ancestors were in the desert, G-d
caused the Jews to dwell in Suka booths [Leviticus 23:43], which, in their original form,
were composed from the "Clouds of Glory," made by G-d Himself. When we move out
of our solid homes to the suka booth, we show that the only true dwelling and protection
are from G-d. Egypt was a mighty power. One might think that living in a solid home in a
powerful country, one is secure in a home that is secure. G-d smashed the Egyptians with
ten plagues and the annihilation at the Reed Sea. We lived in frail spiritual dwellings
for forty years in a desert; protected from snakes, scorpions and heat. True residence and
protection are spiritual. This is the meaning of dwelling in the suka.
People often don't seek guidance needed
from a rov. The Torah says, "What does G-d ask of you but that you fear G-d, to go in
all of His ways and to love Him and serve Him with all your heart..." [Deuteronomy
The essence of being a Torah Jew is
devotion of the heart to G-d, with fear of Him at the "essence of the essence."
This means that life constantly confronts people with choices between one's own will and
the will of G-d, and that each has free will every time to choose as he wants (with, of
course, consequences and responsibility for each choice). The foundation of this is always
how one operates at the level of the heart.
It therefore is amazing, in our current
society, how much the focus has been twisted into prioritizing the surface and
discrediting the inner essence. This shows up in almost all areas of life: e.g.
decorations of the Suka, the lulav and esrog of Sukkos, fancy homes or judging shidduchim
by externals that have nothing to do with the humanity or quality of the person. This is
not what G-d wants, as TaNaCH says, "For the human will see the outer appearance and
G-d sees the heart (1 Samuel 16:7)." Pirkei Avos says, "Do not look at the outer
container, but what is in it." The gemora [Sanhedrin 106b] says that the main thing
that G-d wants is the heart.
If one invites friends and family for yom
tov meals; instead of the needy, sad, troubled or lonely; this is called by Chazal
"service of the stomach and not service of G-d," no matter how much effort or
expense went into beautifying the Suka or buying a superb esrog. Chesed is much greater.
Everybody is always in a "milchomas
hayaitzer [war against the evil inclination]." This is at the innermost core where a
person "truly lives" and who the person really is. There is a mitzva to give
people a "saivor ponim yafos [a cheerful, friendly countenance]." If one does
not smile at people, or gives a forced and phoney smile, he is not truly a pleasant or
friendly person. How would the person act if you, in any way, challenged or criticized
them? Chazal tell us that a person is truly recognizable by how he acts when he spends his
money, when he is drunk, when he is angry, by how he judges people and things (by what he
praises or criticizes) and by how he leaves something/someone at the end of his
association with it/him/her/them. These are examples of where you truly see the real
person. The midrash says that one's true inner essence, his Torah and dignity, stands in
its place. In other words, what other people say or think about you has no affect on who
or what you are as a person, or as a Jew. Their opinions or chit-chat about you ultimately
mean absolutely nothing. What you are, what your qualities as a person are, are never
diminished or impacted in the least by what others think and feel. The mishna says that it
is better for everyone alive to laugh at you and call you an idiot for your entire
lifetime than to be considered by G-d to be evil for even one moment. The Jew should only
concentrate on, prioritize and develope himself in, true spiritual perfection at all
In shidduchim, the latest "trend"
or "craze" is demanding only someone "who dances in the middle" [at a
simcha], as if this indicates or measures how fit for being a marriage partner one is. The
experience of most people I know with wisdom and meaningful life experience is that people
who "dance in the middle" are more often than not egotistical phoneys who want
limelight. Their dancing in the middle is "shtick" regarding their own life
rather than regarding entertaining the baal simcha [celebrant]. These egotistical actors
who dance in the middle are often the same people who cannot see another person in any
real sense and are a catastrophe when they get married when the other wants something that
doesn't suit the "middle dancer." It is idolizing superficiality and is nothing
short of idiocy.
A rich American Jew was once vacationing in
Poland. While there, he "had to" visit the Chofetz Chayim in his town of Radin.
When he got to the Chofetz Chayim's shack, the visitor was aghast to find there was next
to no furniture; just a plain wooden table, a couple of chairs with no backs, some rickety
book shelves and a dirt floor. The American asked the Chofetz Chayim, "Where is your
furniture?" The Chofetz Chayim, in Jewish fashion, answered the question with a
question, "Where is YOUR furniture?" The visitor said, "I'm just a
traveler. I'm temporarily away from home. I don't have furniture on my journey. I have my
furniture in my home."
The Chofetz Chayim answered, "I am
just a traveler, in my life on earth. I'm temporarily away from home, in Heaven. I don't
have furniture on my journey on earth. I have my furniture in my home in olam habo
[eternal life]." The Chofetz Chayim was saying that his main purpose in life is
accumulating spiritual merits, which would be dissipated and eliminated by spending time
or energy accumulating material gains. He wanted only eternal spiritual gains. Every thing
else is Soton distracting from true purpose.
On Sukkos we read King Solomon's book of
Ecclesiastes, specifically at the time of harvest, to teach us that we must never lose
sight, in our material lives, that spirituality is the priority and essence. King Solomon
tells us that the purpose of life is "to fear G-d and do His mitzvos, because that is
all there is to being a human being." Never forget: give G-d your heart and make all
your decisions based entirely on considerations and values of the heart and G-d's service.
This is all that life is for.
3. THE MIRACLE OF THE THREE
For those of you who need a "jump
start" for your emuna (belief in G-d and the supremacy of His will) consider this.
From the time of Joshua till the end of the second temple, a span of approximately 1,300
years, all Jewish adult males were obligated to go to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem for the
three annual pilgrimmage festivals; Passover, Shevu'os and Sukkos. This left the entire
country barren and unprotected. All women, children and property were vulnerable to
plunder and attack; the entire country exposed to conquest. There were always enough
enemies, power-hungry kings and anti-semites around for whom such a thrice-annual,
predictable, recurrent pattern would have pain uncontrollably tempting. Yet, never once in
all of history did G-d allow one iota of harm come upon the Jewish nation. As King Solomon
says (Ecclesiastes 8:5), "The one who performs a commandment will not know any bad
WHY IS SIMCHAS TORAH ON
SHMINI ATZERESS INSTEAD OF ON SHEVUOS?
One might ask, "Why was the holiday of
Simchas Torah [The Joy Of The Torah] placed in the Jewish calendar on the holiday of
Shmini Atzeress ["The Eighth Day Of Holding Back," which follows immediately
after the seven days of Sukos] instead of on Shevuos, the day which commemorates the
giving of the Torah?" Wouldn't having the celebration over the Torah make more sense
on the day we celebrate the giving of the Torah?
Shevuos and Shmini Atzeress are both called
"Atzeress [a day of holding back]" by Chazal. Shevuos is a time which is the end
of a period that starts with Pesach. Shmini Atzeress is the end of the period which starts
There are many differences as well as
similarities between these two periods of time. The first period of time (from Pesach to
Shevuos) is 50 days. The latter period of time (Sukos-Shmini Atzeress) is eight days.
Fifty is one more than seven times seven, and eight is one more than a single unit of
Shevuos is the day we celebrate the giving
of the Torah. The atzeress of Shevuos, which would seem to be the appropriate time for
celebrating Simchas Torah [the Joy Of The Torah], was the culmination of the redemption of
freedom of the body from slavery under the Egyptians. Redemption from Egypt was
characterized by yira [fear]; with the ten plagues, pursuit of by the Egyptians and the
killing of the Egyptians at the Yam Suf, and the thunder and lightening at Revelation at
Mount Sinai. It was a harsh, frightening and involuntary experience. The midrash says that
G-d held the mountain over the Jewish people and said that this place will be their burial
ground if they would not accept the Torah.
In contrast, Sukos is a time when everyone
has been purified by tshuva [repentance] and everyone has come through Yom Kippur. Sukos
is the holiday most replete with mitzvos: lulav and esrog, building and dwelling in a
booth, the water ceremony (in the time of the Holy Temple) and Hallel. The experience of
Sukos is of joy and love and it is voluntary. We have love of G-d and His Torah. Israel,
the Torah and G-d are all One [Zohar]. Sukos, in this respect, is the opposite of Shevuos.
Chazal contrast tshuva from love with
tshuva from fear. Let us look at this in our context and let us also look at how G-d uses
His principle of mida kineged mida (measure for measure, in His responses to people) in
When one does tshuva from fear, Hashem
turns his sins from intentional sins INTO UNINTENTIONAL SINS. That is a level of
forgiveness: G-d regards one's sins as if the person didn't know the act was a sin or did
not know that the act was a case in which the act was sinful. But, there still is a status
of blemish there because the person still is viewed as having done a sin. The person's
motive in repenting is to look out for himself, to protect himself against punishment or
trouble. It is as if Hashem says, "You are doing the minimal tshuva because you are
frightened and I will give the minimal forgiveness."
However, for tshuva from love of G-d, He
turns sins INTO MERITS. Why? This is because love is characterized by giving. Ahava (love,
in Hebrew) is related to hav (give, in Aramaic, a related language). So, when one does
tshuva from love, he wants to give of himself for G-d, to be the best possible servant of
G-d, to be the closest that he possibly can be to G-d. When the person is looking to give,
G-d is also looking to give. G-d is, so to speak, saying that He is "giving" by
seeing every sin as a step which led to this tshuva, to a new level of commitment to G-d,
to a new level of love and service and attachment. He is counting every sin as a
"link in a chain" which brought the person to this "development," this
high level of tshuva that was voluntary and characterized by joy and love. Hashem acts out
of love and "gives of Himself" back to the individual. He counts every step,
including the sins, that brought the person to tshuva from love, as a merit.
Seven is a number which corresponds to a
complete entity in nature (e.g. seven days is a complete week). Accordingly, eight
corresponds to that which is above nature.
Pesach is the time of freedom of the body
from Egyptian slavery.
After Pesach, the time until Shevuos
required seven units of seven days of effort. The Atzeress, of Shevuos is reached through
fear, so it takes seven times seven before arriving at that day of being together with
G-d, on the fiftieth day.
The seven days of Sukos are characterized
by joy, love and mitzvos. We only require eight days to go through this tshuva and
cleansing process. We only need one unit of seven to get to the Atzeress of Shmini
Atzeress because these are seven days of love. Only one unit of seven is needed to bring
us closer to Hashem, from Sukos to Shmini Atzeress, that day of being together with G-d,
on the eighth day.
After Yom Kippur, we have come through
freedom of the soul by tshuva [repentance] and kapara [atonement], done voluntarily and
through love, through the seven days of Sukos.
With the cold season following, G-d does
not ask us to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem again for half a year, until Spring. In
contrast, after Pesach, it is only 50 days until the next pilgrimage holiday.
On Sukos there are 70 sacrifices. These
symbolize the 70 basic nations of the world. Our time together with G-d is not exclusive.
Shmini Atzeress is the eight day, coming
after one unit of seven. On Shmini Atzeress, there are no mitzvos, no objects to handle.
It is as if Hashem is saying, "Wait one more day for us to be alone, just you and I,
to share our special love together, before you go back to your long winter of earthly
pursuits. Since getting to Shmini Atzeress was through the love and joy of Sukos, and this
was voluntary and through renewed commitment to Torah and mitzvos, and this came after
cleansing from sins on Yom Kippur, I am only going to require one unit of seven days to
bring us to this Atzeress [the eighth day of holding back]."
This explains celebrating the joy, honor
and greatness of the Torah on Shmini Atzeress.
We do not experience the Torah in a severe,
frightening and legalistic way, as we do on Shevuos. Our perception of Torah is on a lower
level when prompted by fear and force and a base physical survival instinct. Our
perception of the the greatness of G-d and Torah is on a much higher level on Shmini
Atzeress. We have been through the spiritual cleansing of Yom Kippur and the numerous
mitzvos of Sukos. We experience the Torah in a manner that is voluntary, joyous, pleasant,
spiritual, loving, honoring and for union with G-d and Torah.
On Shmini Atzeress, our appreciation of the
Torah and our closeness to its Giver, Hashem, are maximized. It is the appropriate day to
celebrate the Torah.
SIMCHAS TORAH - MAKING
TORAH RELEVANT TO "KIDS AT RISK"
Chazal refer to Shevuos AND Shemini Atzeress as
"atzeress [linked to a previous holiday]." Shevuos is connected to Pesach and
Shemini Atzeress to Sukkos. The Torah was given with thunder and lightening; after
liberation, plagues and killing in Egypt. Sefer HaToda'a says the atzeress of Shevuos is
characterized by fear so it takes seven weeks and Shmini Atzeress by love so it only needs
seven DAYS. G-d took care of us in the desert, which we commemorate by dwelling in booths,
followed by rejoicing with the Torah.
King Solomon said to "Educate each child according to his way so that when he
grows old he will never depart from it [Proverbs 22:6]."
I was about to put my fare into a subway turnstile when a young fellow, about 20, ran
over carrying a flat take-out pizza box. Recognizing a fellow Jew, he asked me to hold his
box. I waited while he bought his fare. We entered the platform and he asked me directions
to his stop, which I gave him. Feeling comfortable with me, he asked me how to manage
stress. I never told him that I do counseling. He just must have felt that I was someone
he could talk to and he had tension pent up in him. He was wearing casual every-day
American clothes, with a small yarmulka, but he told me he was a drop out from a Chasidish
community, was on the outs with the formal education system and had considerable personal
problems. I discussed with him the difference between emotional pressures from within as
distinguished from those genuinely imposed by external circumstances, how circumstances
can be a test from Heaven or a challenge to grow or to achieve or to be creative in ways
that we can't when we are comfortable, and how one handles pressures or issues can be
largely a matter of one's attitude and approach. I gave him attention and chizuk. I
brought source after source after source, to communicate to him that, as Pirkei Avos tells
us, everything is in the Torah, including the answers to his questions. He thanked me and
asked if he could remain in touch with me. I gave him my number.
I did something with him that no one in his family or schools did. I made Torah
relevant to him, talk to him, to his situation and feelings. He thought the Torah was
contributory to his problems. People who fall short of Torah may have contributed to his
problems, but G-d's Torah NEVER contributes to problems. Kee haim chayaynu, Toras chayim,
Toras Hashem temima [words of Torah are our life, it is Torah OF LIFE, Torah of G-d is
perfect]. When young people go off the derech [Torah path], it is because Torah was never
presented as relevant to their life, feelings, personality.
One of my early rabbis was both a rov and a psychologist. He said that ninety percent
of secular psychology is false, but we need the ten percent that helps; and that a chinuch
[Torah education] must be modified to the individuality of each student so that his
personality develops to be authentic and psychologically healthy, while remaining true to
learning Torah and living the Shulchan Aruch. This helps brings talmidim to their
potential, if they have hadracha [Torah guidance] from good rabbonim who teach them Torah,
mussar [self-perfection and ethical studies] and derech eretz [polite, thoughtful and
civil conduct]. The Chasidish master, Reb Elimelech of Lizensk, said, "One should
ALWAYS see the good attributes of each other person and NEVER see his shortcomings."
It stands to reason from this that good educators can identify individual qualities in
each child and "fan the flames;" to evoke enthusiasm and love for Torah, set a
strong spiritual and developmental foundation and bring out good potentials.
If the schools make "mass production," and push the boys to be things they
are not, they will grow up to consider Shulchan Aruch at best [Rachmona litzlon] to be
"a bunch of optional suggestions" or a "wedding smorgasbord" from
which they can "pick and eat what they choose." When the Torah [in Shma]
commands us to love G-d, the gemora says that this means to make G-d be loved by others
through you. If chinuch fails to make G-d loved, fails to build loyalty to living the
Torah, pushing boys to be things externally imposed upon them, their chinuch can make them
become alienated to Torah. Before someone becomes a "baal madrayga [person on a very
high spiritual level]," his human feelings require that the Torah speak to him, be
relevant to him. I have spoken to countless people as a counselor who have been pained by
how Torah or their religious social culture was presented to them, and made them feel
rebellious or resentful. Their chinuch experience was cold, mechanical and not better than
In some yeshivas, there is a pressure and culture that promotes acting super-frum that
is not really internalized and assimilated because it is imposing something unnatural,
artificial and premature for that age and level of development. In other yeshivas, boys
are given more free reign to be themselves and carefree, so they are subject to becoming
Either way, what is missing in many cases is the CAREFUL AND CARING blending of Talmud
and mussar, made relevant to each individual and his emotional and spiritual development.
Mussar is often downplayed as a waste of time. A working man came to Rabbi Yisroel
Salanter, the father of the "Mussar Movement" and asked, "Rabbi, I work
long and hard. I only have 15 minutes a day to learn. What should I learn?" Reb
Yisroel answered, "Learn mussar and you'll come to find time to learn gemora
also." Learning mussar; under the direction of sensitive, capable teachers who are
good role models and baalay midos [masters of their character]; brings to adding more time
for Torah, mitzvos and spiritual merits of every kind. It makes one a finer and happier
person, a better potential spouse and parent, more able to respect oneself and others, and
more committed to Torah at every moment.
Parents also must contribute by giving time to get to know, nurture and communicate
with each child. It is not enough when a child comes home and his mother is not there
because she is doing recreational shopping or the father isn't there because he is a
workaholic or otherwise preoccupied.
Two women, old friends, met after several years. Mrs. Moskowitz had her son Akiva with
her. Mrs. Stein hadn't seen Akiva since he was six. She was taken by what a pleasant, warm
and well-mannered mentsh he turned out to be and said, "I'd give twenty years of my
life to have a son like that!" Mrs. Moskowitz responded, "That's exactly how I
did it. I gave twenty years of my life to have a son like that" [true story, names
Only if we raise up each child according to his own individuality will the chinuch
remain with him or her till (s)he is old. Unless we create Torah instruction that talks
to, relates to and cultivates each individual warmly and wisely; and instills love; it is
no wonder that their chinuch can be gone before the children reach twenty, like my friend
with the pizza on the subway, and countless more like him. By crafting instruction that
makes Torah into "real life," thousands of more Jews will find simcha in
learning and living Torah - not just on Simchas Torah, but all year!
1. BALANCING THE MATERIAL
AND THE SPIRITUAL
On the holiday of Chanukah we have an
interesting situation in its halachos (laws). There were two miracles on chanukah. The
first was the victory of the Chashmanoyim (the outnumbered Cohanim) who were at war with
the Greeks, who, at the time, were the greatest military power in the world. After a
fifteen year war, they were victorious and kicked the Greeks out of the Holy Temple.
Second, after they went in to clean up the
Holy Temple, they found only one container of kosher oil for the menora, which was enough
to burn the light of the menora for one day. They lit it, going beyond the strict
requirements of the law. Unkosher oil is technically permitted when the majority of the
community is spiritually impure. Nevertheless, the Chashmanoyim went out of their way for
the service of G-d. They searched the Holy Temple through and through and found one vial
of oil with the seal that meant it was pure. Because they went out of their way, Hashem
made a miracle. One day's supply of oil lasted for the eight days that it would take to
make new kosher oil.
We have a major question on these two
miracles. Why was the war, the defeat of the Greeks, commemorated by a paragraph being
added in the Shmoneh Esray (the silent standing prayer), which is a spiritual
commemoration, and why is the burning of the oil commemorated with a physical candle and
In both cases, Hashem was responding to
"masiras nefesh (extra effort, self-sacrifice for the service of G-d)." What is
more materialistic than a war? Killing people, weapons, blood. This is the most earthly,
mundane, physical activity you can think of. But, the Chashmanoyim were devotedly using
brutal and bloody war for the service of Hashem. The Greeks went into, took over and
defiled the Holy Temple, where the Cohanim did their holy work.
In the case of the menora, the Chashmanoyim
were engaged in an altogether spiritual activity, lighting the menora of the Holy Temple
with its pure, kosher oil. In essence, once they lit the one day's oil which they found
after their strenuous search, Hashem basically took the one day's worth of "burning
power" and extended it miraculously for the seven additional days that it would take
to manufacture new pure oil (to provide continual lighting exclusively from kosher oil).
I think the sages are telling us, by the
way the legislated the holiday's observances, that we can use the physical world in the
most mundane and physical way - a violent, bloody war - but when used for the service of
Hashem, the most earthly and physical thing is spirituality, Torah and holiness.
When the Chashmanoyim were using what was
more a clearly more spiritual activity, the light of the menora, we show that a most
spiritual purpose has to be brought down to a concrete, earthly manifestation to be
meaningful. We commemorate the spiritual menora with a material act.
Therefore, we see a balance. The earthly,
physical war is commemorated in a spiritual prayer. The spiritual light of the menora is
commemorated in a physical act of lighting the candles. This shows that in this world, the
physical and the spiritual have to be tied, when it comes to serving Hashem. The mundane
has to be tied to spirituality and G-dly purpose. The spiritual has to materialize in
practical, physical life.
2. HAPPY CHANUKAH - EVERY
DAY: HOW TO APPLY THE MESSAGE OF CHANUKAH TO HAVING A SWEET, DEVOTED AND PEACEFUL MARRIAGE
The above is a vital message in marriage.
It is taking something that can be relatively earthly and mundane, something that is
potentially rooted in a person's most selfish, internal, egoistic and physical aspect.
But, by elevating it to holiness and spirituality it is devotion to, and union with,
Hashem. The material is raised to the spiritual and holy. The spiritual must be
concretized and concentrated into practical, physical life.
Rambam writes that the mitzva of Chanukah
is a most beloved mitzva. The Rishonim describe how Hashem's having done the miracles for
us at the time of the Chanukah story were a demonstration of His love for us. Because of
masiras nefesh (exertion, self-sacrifice) in the service of G-d, Hashem, mida kinneged
mida (measure for measure) "exerts Himself" by changing the laws of nature on
our behalf. Both Hashem and the Jewish people "go beyond themselves" for one
another, us in self-sacrifice, and Hashem in giving us miracles. There is an exchange of
love between G-d and the Jewish people.
In marriage, when the husband and wife
extend themselves so as to bring out the holiness and spirituality in their practical life
and in their relationship, they also create a situation that is also spiritual, exalted,
holy and based on the exchange of love.
In the Torah, we learned to differentiate
between the personalities of the two genders. The Torah says to speak gently, emotionally
and sensitively to "Bais Yaakov (the Jewish women)" and speak in a hard, direct
and logical way to B'nei Yisroel (the Jewish men) [Exodus 19:3]."
Marriage will achieve its goals when the
differences (which are, especially initially, incomprehensible and unjustifiable in the
mind of one gender regarding the other) are the means of bringing out the total potential
of the "team." The two have their gender-based differences so that they can
complete each other. Having differences is not intended to be divisive. However, to remain
consistently loving and peaceful takes masiras nefesh (exertion, extending of self,
self-sacrifice). When the two can add up to constitute a totality, when the whole is more
than the sum of the parts, they are "making it" in their quest to tie the
material and the holy.
If the man and woman do what is right and
good in the eyes of Hashem, such that their marriage works, they will be a peaceful and
unified team. When they perform the will of Hashem for a lifetime, they will be joined in
their relationship with each other, and they, as a unit, will be joined also with Hashem.
The husband and wife will be able to achieve unity in their relationship as man and wife,
and also will be able to achieve unity between themselves as a team and Hashem.
THE MEGILLAH AND
HASHGACHA PRATIS - PRECISE DIVINE PROVIDENCE IN OUR LIVES
In the Megilla, the biblical story of Queen
Ester and the holiday of Purim, we learn some profound lessens for practical life.
Megillas Ester is the only book in the Bible in which G-d's name is never written. A key
theme in the Megilla's story is the seeming occurrence of coincidental happenings, which
flow with an outer appearance of events in nature.
The Jewish people are in exile in Persia.
King Achashverosh makes a feast which the Jewish people attend. Queen Vashti is executed
and the King chose Ester, a Jew, as the new Queen. She appoints her uncle Mordechai to the
royal gate and, while there, he overhears Bigsan and Teresh plot to assassinate the king.
Mordechai passes the information to Ester. The king's life is saved, the conspirators
executed and Mordechai's loyal deeds is recorded in the royal records. The king appoints
Haman, a descendent of Amalek, viceroy and requires all to bow to him. Mordechai, who bows
only to G-d, refuses to bow to Haman, infuriating him. Haman devised a plan to manipulate
the king into ordering execution of all the Jews in the vast empire of 127 countries,
intending to start with Mordechai. One night, the king cannot sleep and uses his time
reading the royal chronicles. Finding that Mordechai saved his life and was never
rewarded, he decides to reward Mordechai just then. At the same time, Haman came to visit
the king to effectuate the plan to annihilate the Jewish people, starting with Mordechai.
Instead, the king orders Haman to carry out the reward of Mordechai. Ester leads the
Jewish people in tshuva (repentance), and we accepted the Torah with greater commitment
than ever before ("Keemu vikeeblu"). She invites the king and Haman to a private
party, putting Haman off guard so that she can reveal his evil effectively to the king.
Haman is executed and the Jewish people are saved. There was a complete and unexpected
turnabout. It was a massive and joyous salvation.
The Megilla is not the first dangerous
brush with Amalek that the Jewish people had. Shortly after Israel was taken by G-d out of
Egypt, the belligerent, evil nation Amalek ambushed and attacked Israel unprovoked. In the
recounting of this war, the Torah is revealing vital information that does not appear
readily to the naked eye. Upon deeper study, a lot of very important information comes to
light about life, G-d's management of the world, what G-d wants from us, what G-d does for
and to us. One of the things that is very disturbing and intriguing about the story-line
is where this story occurs in the chronology of events in the Torah.
The Jewish people had been enslaved in
Egypt. Hashem said to Moshe to go to Paro to tell him, "Let my people go that they
will serve me." Paro said, "No." There were ten plagues and then G-d opened
the Reed Sea miraculously and the Jews fled to safety. The Egyptians who were chasing them
were drowned, and the Jews were totally free.
Then, after this, the Jewish people said to
Moshe that they needed bread, meat and water. G-d replied that He would take care of them,
and He gave Mon (manna, miraculous bread that fell from Heaven in the morning), He blew
quails birds into the camp every evening (so that the people would have meat) and He
provided water from a rock that would follow them around through the desert and produce
water miraculously wherever they would go in the desert.
Now after all of this, the Jews are
traveling forward through the desert from Egypt towards Israel. This nation Amalek, with
no provocation or justification, ambushed and attacked the Jewish people from behind,
killing the stragglers - the elderly, those weak from the effects of slavery, the sick,
women and children. Israel rallied and there was a war. Moshe held up his hands and when
the people looked at Moshe holding up his hands, Amalek was beaten and the Jews won.
This is a strange story, especially when we
consider that on the surface it appears that you have an innocent, weary nation, who have
just been oppressed and brutalized for many, many years. After finally being freed, they
just want to get going with their lives, and all of a sudden, Amalek bashes them, doing so
from behind and killing the most defenseless and vulnerable, for no discernable reason. It
doesn't seem to make sense.
Let's look through the eyes of the sages
and add material from them, beyond the purview of the Chumash alone. Then, this fuller
story becomes extremely and profoundly instructive, especially in a context of having
hardships in life in general and in finding a mate in particular. A lot is going to be
disclosed about what G-d does and what we need to do, so that G-d (hopefully) will be more
inclined to provide our needs, save and help us.
The Torah tells us that Amalek's attack
occurred in a place called "Refidim." We know that the Torah is not a geography
book. The Torah does not tell us locations of the events recorded within the Torah for the
purpose of letting us know geographic information. It is not in the interest of advising
readers of the event's location. There are eternal, profound Torah messages whenever the
Torah gives us any information - geographical information or otherwise - about any of the
events recorded in the Torah.
One of my main Torah teachers and
inspirations, Rav Avrohom Osher Zimmerman explained this attack by Amalek at Refidim. The
Midrash Mechilta tells us that when the Torah records the attack by Amalek, and that the
ambush occurred in "Refidim," this is a "code word." What does
"Refidim" stand for? It is short form of the phrase, "Rofu yidayhem
midivray Torah (The Jewish people weakened their hands [i.e. grip] on words of
Torah)." We see, then, that there was a "cause and effect" which the
midrash is telling us, that because the Jews let down their grasp of the Torah, that
caused that Amalek should attack the Jewish people savagely from behind, ostensibly
An element which is significant is seen in
the Torah, after the depiction of the battle. G-d says that his throne is not complete as
long as Amalek will not have been erased and exterminated from the world. Those are pretty
harsh terms. There is a mitzva in the Torah for the Jews to annihilate Amalek. They are a
nation fully entrenched with pure evil, with no redeeming quality. G-d wants Amalek erased
and eradicated from the face of the earth, so that Amalek is not even remembered. Rashi
says that G-d was furious and hateful towards Amalek. G-d said that his name and his
throne cannot be complete because of the degree of hateful evil that Amalek brings into
If we study who Amalek is, we learn that
Amalek, stands for complete hefkairus (wildness, freedom from any kind of structure or
discipline, abandonment of all law and order) and Amalek is antithetical to G-d, to G-d's
system of law and order, and to what G-d wants in this world. G-d wants the world to have
teaching, system, order, obligation, behavior standards, morals, submission to greater and
higher authority and law. Amalek is the complete absence and opposite of everything that
G-d stands for.
In Hebrew, every name has meaning. A name
always represents the essence of the one named. So there is some intrinsic, deep meaning
about the name of anyone who has a Hebrew name. That name has a tie to the essence of the
personality of the person to whom that name is assigned. An angel puts the idea for a name
into the mind(s) of the parent(s) so that the name will correspond to the essential
personality of the person being named.
G-d also has his names. The Torah says that
G-d's name and throne will not be complete. The word throne (Kisay) is written
incompletely (Kais - missing the alef, the last consonant), so that it only has two of the
three main (consonantal) letters of the word throne. And, instead of using the four
letters of G-d's name (yod kay vov kay), the Torah here only says two letters (yod kay).
The very way in which the Torah expresses the idea that G-d's throne and name will not be
complete (as long as Amalek is not exterminated) is by writing "throne" and His
name in incomplete fashion. And, since a name is the essence of the one named, G-d is
telling us that His essence that He wants in this world and prevailing in this world
cannot be complete as long as Amalek - and the wild abandonment (i.e. no law, morals,
authority, structure, discipline, etc. in the world) that Amalek stands for - is in this
world. Amalek hit the weak ones FROM BEHIND under a brutal sun in the desert. Until
someone who can be so merciless, cruel, evil, self-centered and purposelessly destructive,
is erased from the face of the earth, G-d's purpose for the world cannot be completely
achieved, and what G-d wants from humankind cannot fully happen. Until the Jews, who stand
for what G-d wants and for manifesting His essence on earth, who stand for G-d's system,
values and authority, eradicate what G-d doesn't want, His name and throne - His essence
on earth - can't be complete.
It's not like Amalek didn't know, either.
The sages tell us when G-d opened the Reed Sea, G-d made the miracle of splitting all the
water everywhere in the whole world. If a man was drinking a cup of water in China, the
water in his cup separated. So everyone in the whole world knew about the miracle of G-d
opening the waters of the Reed Sea. Everyone in that generation knew there is a Creator.
Amalek knew what he was doing.
Rashi adds something else that is very
intriguing and important, that contributes to the unfolding message. The Torah placed the
story of Amalek right after the story in which the Torah tells us that G-d miraculously
provided the mon (bread from Heaven), the quails and the water every day in the desert to
G-d provided the needs of the Jews. When
the people were hungry, thirsty and scared, G-d miraculously saved them and provided all
their needs. G-d provides our needs today. When we pray for our needs, G-d is willing to
save and help us.
When, however, the Jewish people weaken
their grasp on the Torah, G-d cannot respond with what we pray to Him for. What was worse,
G-d saved them (from hunger and thirst) and the Jews did not respond with gratitude. They
kept complaining against G-d. G-d withdrew His protection and the Jews were, to use the
words of Midrash Tanchuma, like a little impudent and ungrateful child thrown off the
protecting shoulder of his father, whereupon the boy was bitten by a dog. When the boy was
"good," he had his "father's" protection. His father provided all the
boy's needs and exerted himself to give and to give to his child. Then the child said that
he does not know where his father is. He was sitting on the shoulder of his father! The
father put the boy down to be bitten by the dog.
If the Jewish people learn and practice the
Torah, are committed and devoted to the Torah, then G-d will provide every last one of
their needs. G-d will save the loyal one from hardship, provide needs, save from troubles,
will help and take care of him/her, He will be benevolent to him/her. But, if a person
weakens his grip on the Torah, weakens his attachment and involvement, his devotion to the
Torah, G-d brings Amalek.
The Jew, in essence, brings upon himself
the forces of wild abandonment, the relinquishment of the "system," by letting
go of his grip on the Torah, his involvement with and loyalty to the Torah. Instead, he
takes on the "system," the attitude of Amalek. It is the antithesis of the
Torah. It is abandonment of what G-d wants, teaches, of what His essence and name and
throne stand for, which is the Torah and G-d's sovereignty. When a Jew lets go at all of
the Torah, there is no more G-dly law or authority. So, abandonment by G-d is "mida
kinegged mida" (measure for measure) and is perfect justice.
In the book of Esther, the Jews were
threatened with annihilation by Haman, who was from the nation of Amalek. When Esther sent
a messenger to Mordechai to find out about the decree, the verse (4:7) says, "Vayaged
lo Mordechai ess kol asher korohu (And Mordechai told the messenger about all that
happened)." The Midrash (Esther Rabba 8:5) says that the verse's use of the word
"korohu" [happened] is significant. It could have said another term (e.g. asa,
done; instead of korohu, happened). The difference is: korohu refers to Amalek, asher
korcha baderech [Deuteronomy 25:18], who happened to meet you on the way out of Egypt
(again, the term "happened").
Reference to Amalek is consistently worded
in terms of "happening." This is a reference to the fact that Amalek has no
recognition of Hashem, divine supervision of the world, absolute authority, right and
wrong, law and order. Things just "happen." One may do whatever one wants. There
is no meaning or rule. This wild abandon and rebellion against all which G-d stands for is
at the essence of Amalek. To Amalek, the world is a free-for-all. Anything goes, do what
you want. Like John Dewey said, "If it works, it's good." That's Amalek. G-d is
at constant war with this.
Amalek is antithetical to G-d, Torah and,
therefore, the Jew. The salvation in the Purim story came with "keemu vikiblu"
(when the Jewish people reestablished their commitment to Torah as part of the Purim
story). When they strengthened their grip, as it were, on the Torah, G-d rescued the Jews,
turned events around and killed Haman and his family. Again, we see the direct correlation
between how strong one's "grip" on the Torah is and how favorably G-d treat him;
how weak one's "grip" on the Torah is and how punitively G-d treats him -
G-d is at permanent war with Amalek. The
Jew must be antithetical to the essence of Amalek, which is wildness, abandonment of Torah
and G-dliness, evil, immorality, cruelty, absence of order or right, lack of authority and
law. When the Jew aligns with G-d and Torah, G-d will provide all his needs and not be
"at war" with the Jew, all the while that he strengthens his grip on the Torah,
attaches to the Torah, is devoted to and practices the Torah.
When the Jews were spiritually weak, G-d
brought about the punishment through brutal Amalek; which hit the Jewish people in the
place they were weak, falling, dependent, vulnerable and defenseless. When, as opposed to
this, the Jews attach to and are strong with the Torah; that will increase merit to earn
that G-d should provide our needs, to save and to help, and grant our prayers.
This can apply to all needs or troubles,
whether finding one's soulmate, having peace with one's spouse, health or recovery,
livelihood, a safe journey, or whatever it may be. If one wants to be saved from suffering
or hardship, if one wants G-d to provide needs and answer prayers; attach to the Torah,
grab strongly to the Torah and do tshuva (repent in all areas that need spiritual
correction). It is the opposite of the weakening of grip on the Torah which brought Amalek
to attack the Jews in the desert. When Moshe held his hands up, the Jewish people looked
up to G-d. By looking to G-d, we strengthen our grip on the Torah and are saved by G-d. By
being strong and devoted to the Torah, that's the way to increase merit, that G-d should
deem it justice to provide what one needs and to help and to save.
The adjacency-relationship between the
story of Amalek and the provision of the food in the desert teaches us that the way to
have G-d provide one's needs is to have a strong grip on the Torah: what it stands for and
requires from you.
In the story of Ester and Mordechai, the
events unfold as if they are coincidental "happenings." This is the "trade
mark" of Amalek. The Jews in Persia loosened their grip on Torah, partaking of the
gentile king's social feast. Loosing grip on Torah is the same, essentially, as the wild
abandon of Amalek. If the Jew gives himself over to the "system," the ways of
Amalek, the mida kinnegged mida (measure for measure) result is G-d withdrawing and giving
the Jew over to the forces and system of Amalek. His descendent or disciple rises to
power, takes charge and finds reason to hate and exterminate the Jew. The Talmud refers to
a nation "Germamia" as a nation that will rise up against the Jews. This
suggests that Hitler's rise to power in Germany (very close in name to Germamia) and drive
to exterminate Jewry were this Amalek system at work, perhaps because 80% of European
Jewry had become unreligious by the time Hitler (yemach shmo) came to power.
In any event, the Purim story shows that
G-d wants Amalek erased. Amalek and the Jew are "either/or." This is comparable
to the story about Amalek attacking us in the desert after leaving Egypt. The Jew is to
recognize the kingship of G-d, represented by Moshe lifting up his hands, and that there
are law and order in the world which come from G-d. When the Jew look upward, to G-d,
where Moshe's hands pointed to, the Jewish people were saved and won.
The Megila adds a dimension which the
Torah's story didn't have. The Megila provides and entire intrigue-rich story, not openly
mentioning G-d, and showing events as if coincidental happenings. Yet, at all point, G-d
is working behind the scenes, setting up events for subsequent steps which further enable
subsequent developments, to achieve G-d's plan.
G-d wants every last spec of Amalek erased
and wiped out. Because Amalek's system became so infused into Jewry, the appearance of
coincidental happening and the removal of clear divine providence resulted. G-d withdrew
to a more veiled level of operation in the world, leaving the Jewish people to the forces
of the natural world which they embraced. He was always there, but covered from view. As
the Jewish people did tshuva, repenting for their misdeeds and growing more close and
committed to G-d, His providence became more beneficial and revealed. This too was mida
kinnegged mida. The more we accepted that G-d is in charge, the more He showed us that He
is. G-d is always paying close and detailed attention to our lives. The stronger our grip
on His Torah and devoted to His will, the more he will show us that He is managing our
lives, guiding events, producing developments that accord with His divine plan. The closer
we are to Him and the more we attribute operation of the world to His providence, the more
revealed He is to us. We may always be sure that G-d is fully guiding every aspect and
detail of our lives, and the more our lives are directed to the faithful service of His
Torah, the more beneficially the details of our lives will be, and the more beneficial the
developments will be in the course of our lives.
1. REMOVING THE CHOMETZ
FROM THE HEART - BECOMING AN INSTRUMENT FOR HOLINESS, FOR TORAH AND FOR MITZVOS IN
In the Torah portion "Bo" we have
the commandment of Passover. However, the Torah first commands the Jewish people to
sanctify the months (Rosh Chodesh - the start of every month) and count Nissan, the month
in which we were redeemed from Egypt and in which Passover falls, as the first of the
months. Then the Torah proceeds to command us to bring the Passover sacrifice (we actually
may only bring it when we have a holy Temple). The Torah goes to considerable lengths to
stress that only one who is circumcised may partake of the Passover lamb. The Torah,
generally concise, adds a considerable measure of detail. For example, it specifies that
only a Jew or convert who is circumcised may join in the Passover ceremony, including a
non-Jewish servant who is circumcised, and excluding any foreigner nor uncircumcised Jew.
The S'fas Emmess [the chief rabbi of Gur
chassidim in the late 1800's and very beginning of the 1900's] picks up on this and
explains as significant that the Torah sequences 1. establishing Rosh Chodesh 2. the
Passover sacrifice and 3. the requirement of circumcision.
For starts, the Passover sacrifice and
circumcision are the only active commandments (as contrasted with prohibitions, not to do)
which are punished by koress (extermination of the soul). And these also are the two
commandments which precede Torah and mitzvos. Circumcision is a sign in the body, from
removing the foreskin, which prepares the body to be an instrument capable of receiving
holiness and escaping the limitations of physical nature. The word "meelah
(circumcision)" has the letters mem, yod, lamed and heh, which correspond to the
verse (in Deuteronomy) "mee ya'aleh lanu haShomaymo (who will go up for us to
Heaven)." The verse means to say that the Torah is right here within us. The fact
that its initials (mem yod lamed heh) spell meelah tells us that Torah elevates a person
to Heaven, enabling a person to break beyond the limits of earthly nature, becoming holy -
when the Jew has meelah.
In order to have a time-calculating system,
the Torah legislates our months system of months, which has a new month declared every
Rosh Chodesh, and with the cycle of holidays starting in Nissan every year in the spring.
The power of the month-system is so great that if today is Rosh Chodesh and a boy turns
13, as a bar mitzva he would be executed for a capital crime. If the calendar works out
that tomorrow is deemed the new month, so that the boy is still 12 today, he could commit
the crime and get off free without execution. The Jewish calendar can mean life or death!
We are limited by time. By the Torah
commanding the Passover sacrifice after Rosh Chodesh, the S'fas Emmess teaches that
bringing the Passover sacrifice is removal of "a foreskin and physicality in this
natural world which is subjugated under time." This means that circumcision and the
Passover sacrifice are two aspects of the identical thing. And, through going out of
Egypt, the Jewish people went out of the rulership of the stars and constellations, as the
Zohar describes. This is how the Jewish people attained freedom from astrological powers
("ain mazal liYisroel"). The reason is that the plan for the Jewish people
preceded Creation, which raises us above time and nature. And Passover is the first in the
order of the holidays. Chometz (leavening) symbolizes the evil inclination. Just as
leavening puffs us bread, the evil inclination puffs up man. If man is not humble and able
to purify himself, he can not receive holiness. And, by getting rid of the chometz
(leavening), this is removing the "foreskin" that allows time to be elevated
above the natural world. Just as we left Egypt in physical experience, we leave Egypt in
terms of time. Therefore, the commandment of Rosh Chodesh preceded the commandment of the
Passover sacrifice, so that Israel sanctifies Rosh Chodesh to establish holy times. This
power comes through the eliminating of chometz and slaughtering the Passover sacrifice on
the eve of Passover [end of segment from S'fas Emmess].
In Deuteronomy 21:10, the Torah says,
"When you go out to war." It is ostensibly commanding conduct of Jewish soldiers
when they have to go out and do battle. However, the Torah says "When you..."
using the singular form of "you." Hebrew has a different term to say
"you" in the plural. If Moshe was talking to armies and generals, the Torah
should have said, "When you go..." using the plural term. The commentaries deal
with the kashia [seeming difficulty, contradiction]. The answer is that war is only an
analogy and the Torah is truly talking to the individual, regarding the "milchemmess
hayaitzer," the internal war within the individual against the yaitzer hora (evil
inclination). A key job of life is battling and conquering the evil inclination. If a
person is not engaged in the internal war, G-d sends external wars - suffering, troubles,
pogroms, riots, violence.
There is another verse (Psalm 91:5) with an
interesting and informative reference to war, "Do not fear the terror of night nor
the arrow that flies by in the day." It is also interesting to note that this is from
one of the two chapters of Tehillim written by Moshe, not by King David (who wrote most -
bit not all - of Psalms/Tehilim).
The first portion of the verse uses one
kind of terminology while the second half uses a different kind of terminology. Why does
Moshe refer to night with a vague term of terror while being specific about the arrow
during the day? At night, one is in the dark and cannot see. When attacked by an enemy,
one cannot see who the enemy is, where he is attacking from, what weapon is being used,
how to shield oneself, where to aim, how to fight back or devise a strategy with which to
win. In the day one can see what the weapon is (such as an arrow), where the enemy is
shooting from, how to protect oneself, how to fight back and win.
This is Moshe, who wrote the verse about
going out to war with one's evil inclination. He is telling us how to conduct that war
against the evil inclination. The evil inclination is wily and keeps
"attacking," with trickery, seduction, temptation, desire, rationalization. If
we are in the "dark," if it is "night," if we don't know what the
Torah says about what we must do or not do, and what the Torah says about how to fight the
war against the evil inclination and its weapons, we are like the helpless soldier who is
attacked, helpless and just feels that vague terror. If one learns what the Torah says to
do or not do, and how it teaches us to fight against the evil inclination, then we can
recognize the weapons, represented by the arrow. Following the analogy, we may see where
the enemy is coming from, what the weapons are, how to defend ourselves, devise a
strategy, fight back and win!
The verse "I hope for your salvation
Hashem," (Genesis 49:18) is at the beginning of the circumcision ceremony. The focus
of the circumcision is removal of the foreskin and entering the baby into the covenant
with G-d inaugurated by Avraham. Why does the text of the circumcision ceremony start with
a seemingly unrelated plea for Hashem's salvation? If I need Hashem's salvation on any
Tuesday at 10:37 in the morning, I'd be happy to have when I need it then. What does the
verse have to do with starting the circumcision procedure?
The S'fas Emmess told us that the Passover
sacrifice, with removal of chametz, is a spiritual equivalent of the circumcision. The
Jewish people were subjugated by Egypt which represented the paragon of tuma, spiritual
defilement. The Egyptians worshipped idols, married relatives incestuously, studied the
stars. Egypt was the epitome of all which is antithetical to the Torah. Light is symbolic
of Torah, spirituality, holiness and reward. Dark is symbolic of nature, physicality, sin,
punishment, impurity and worldliness. Dark represents Egypt. The Jews being in Egypt
represented our being subjugated to the forces and impurities of this world. We descended
to the 49th of 50 levels of impurity. Had we slipped one more level, we would not have
been capable any longer of being saved. We were subjugated to everything connected with
darkness: worldliness, astrology, every form of spiritual defilement.
Chametz represent the same things basically
as darkness. Leavened bread blows up and rises, symbolizing haughtiness,
self-centeredness, ego, doing what one wants. Matzo is bread of poverty and humility,
reinforcing this teaching for us: that Pesach represents liberation from the limitations
of the physical world and nature.
The Jew is always in a battle between good
and evil, the will of G-d vs. the will of self, the will of the spiritual vs. the will of
the physical. The message of Pesach and meelah is that we are born limited within the body
and the time and nature of the physical word. In Egypt, the Jew was subjugated to that
which Egypt stood for - the darkness of this physical world, of spiritual impurity and of
evil inclinations. We were freed from Egypt to be subjugated to the Creator of the
universe - infinite, spiritual, the Giver of the Torah, the source of true and eternal
life - to be connected to His light, holiness, boundlessness and rewards.
The Jew is always going out to battle the
forces, wiles and temptations of this world to live up to the commands and standards of
the will of G-d. We are beckoned to live up to the Torah; to prepare for holiness, Torah
and mitzvos by removing the foreskin of the body and removing the "foreskin" in
time and in physical nature, by removing the chometz on the eve of Passover. This means
removing the spiritual chametz from the Jewish heart and soul. This requires learning the
Torah, learning what G-d wants and how to effectively fight the battle that starts in
darkness, with the "terror of night;" doing battle by learning how to fight the
yetzer hora, learn "where it is coming from and what its weapons are." From this
we can learn how to defend our souls, fight back against the evil inclination, devise
weapons and a strategy and win!
The bris meelah is fundamental to Jewish
continuity. It seals in every baby boy his symbol of freedom from the bound of the
physical body. Meelah is also comparable to Pesach. Hoping for salvation, as it is applied
to the text in the circumcision procedure, is just like the Jews needing salvation in
Egypt. The Jews were enslaved - physically as well as spiritually. By making themselves
instruments for holiness, by the Passover sacrifice and bris meela, they merited G-d's
salvation. Just as the Jews were saved from Egypt, we are saved in the merit of our
victory over evil inclinations and of separation from the limits of physicality and
2. MAKE YOUR PESACH EXPERIENCE AND FAMILY
RELATIONSHIPS MORE MEANINGFUL AND INSIGHTFUL
It says in the Hagada, "'And [G-d] saw
our affliction,' this means [the slavery] separated us from normal family life." The
Hagada is telling us that this was a part of what caused Hashem to take us out of Egypt.
Let us study this to understand, appreciate and apply it better.
The ninth plague that G-d brought on Egypt
was darkness. Of all the plagues, it had special significance in that it showed us what
the Egyptians were. Three days of the darkness was so thick that it was tangible. It was
so thick that you could feel and touch the darkness. If an Egyptian were standing when the
darkness came, he was stuck. If an Egyptian were sitting, he was stuck sitting for the
duration. The spiritual darkness of Egypt was so thick that it was as if tangible, the
spiritual filth permeating the soul of the country and people.
In contrast, during the plague of darkness,
the Torah tells us that there was light in the Jewish homes. The Torah does not merely say
that (while the Egyptians had darkness) the Jews had light. It is significant that the
Torah "bothers" to add that the light was in the Jewish "homes." It
was the Torah in the Jewish home, the wholesome and spiritual practice of Jewish family
life, that kept the Jews alive and worthy of salvation. When the Egyptian slavery
separated the Jew from normal family life, Hashem saw that the Jewish people would not be
able to endure and He acted to save us from Egypt. This applies to us today also. Torah
and healthy family relationships in the Jewish home, in Egypt, Israel, America or
anywhere, will reinforce the Jew's spirituality and holiness. By living with conquest of
the chametz of evil inclinations, with ongoing spiritual growth beyond the limits of
this-worldly existence and with loyalty to Torah and mitzvos in practical life, the Jew
merits G-d's salvation.
3. PESACH AND MIDOS -
There is another lesson about Pesach that
comes from one of the greatest teachers of Jewish ethics, Rabbi Yisroel Salanter.
One's midos must be evident in each
person's practical ongoing personal conduct. Working on character is indeed work, but the
rewards far outweigh the price (especially in close human relationships).
The literal meaning of mida is
"measure." In other words, it refers to a measure of personality that is
appropriate under given conditions. It is not mercy to let a killer go unpunished and be a
menace to society. It is not kindness to allow a playful baby to put his hand on a
colorful fire glowing on your stove just because the fire is attractive to him.
Midos is often a matter of keeping
priorities and perspective. Passover is a time when Torah law is very strict and people
are cautious to practice many stringencies; for example, as to how to bake the matzos,
clean the house from chometz, assure that all food is kosher for passover. Sometimes
people get carried away in one area of Torah - and forget themselves in another. The Torah
has to be kept in its entirety; never one part at the expense of another. There is a
classic story that brings this point out.
The students of a great Torah leader of the
mid 1800's, Rabbi Yisroel Salanter, were about to go to the matzo bakery and they asked
him which stringency to be careful to observe during the baking of their festival matzos.
He told them that there is an elderly widow who works at the bakery. He told them to be
careful not to hurt her feelings.
4. PARSHAS BEHA'ALOSCHO: PESACH AND THE SECOND CHANCE
In Parshas Beha'aloscho, the Torah gives the commandment of the Pesach sacrifice. The
Torah here focuses on the person who is spiritually defiled or too far from the Holy
Temple and could not bring the Passover sacrifice in its appointed time for a cause that
was beyond the person's control. In such a case, the Torah commands "Pesach
Shaini," the second Pesach, in which the person brings the Pesach sacrifice a month
after the "regular" Pesach. The Torah then goes on to say that the person who
was able to bring the Passover sacrifice at the regular time and did not will be punished
This past Pesach , we saw an unprecedented number of severe events take place
that cost, pained and inconvenienced thousands of Jews. One hotel in the Catskills was
condemned by order of New York State and closed a day before the start of Yom Tov. The
guests were given less than 24 hours notice not to come to the hotel. Many, who were
already en route, or not coming directly from their address of record, were not informed
that the hotel was closed.
Another hotel was booked for Passover by a Jewish promoter, whose check to the hotel
bounced during Passover. The gentile management had done its business with the Jewish
promoter, not any of the Jewish customers, and felt the Jewish promoter's deal with the
hotel had been breached. On Passover, the gentile management threw all of the Jewish
customers out of the hotel.
A luxurious Passover vacation on a Caribbean island was promoted. A major New York
newspaper carried a front page headline story on erev Pesach that all who had booked this
holiday package were swindled. There was no hotel. Those who arrived at the island had no
food, no matzo, no room, no accomodation. The promoter was a crook who took the money and
disappeared a day or so before Yom Tov, leaving all who booked stranded and cheated. It
was a huge chilul Hashem.
A famous entertainment theme park Passover was promoted. Much was spent on organizing
and advertising, to make this a grand, lavish vacation package. There were to be outings
to the famous park and other forms of extravagant programming. After all the hype, a tiny
percent of hoped-for attendees showed up, which was an embarrassment. Since there was no
budget, the chef was not given needed ingredients and struggled to just get by under tough
There were at least these four Pesach catastrophies. When so many disastrous events
simultaneously occur it has to be a message for us from G-d.
The posuk [Numbers 9:3] tells us that we must keep Pesach with all of its rules and
ceremonies. Even though we do not have the Pesach sacrifice, because we do not have the
Holy Temple in Jerusalem in which to bring the sacrifice, we do have many laws about
Pesach: hagada, chametz, marror, four cups of wine, etc. We have to understand and
re-experience the exodus from Egypt. Yom tov is a spiritual undertaking, not an exercise
in luxury and fun. I am certain that the occurrance of four Pesach fiascos is a clear
indication that G-d is very dissatisfied with turning Pesach observance into convenient
The halacha says that half of yom tov is for G-d and half of yom tov is for us. The
half for G-d consists of Torah learning the subject matter of the day, prayer, the mitzva
activities prescribed for the day (matzo, lulav, etc.) and providing hospitality to
guests. The half for ourselves consists of meals and pleasant family gatherings. We are
losing track of the ratios.
When on vacation, people concern themselves with escaping from the doldrums and burdens
of life. We have extended our mentality of "escape" to escape from avodas Hashem
(service of G-d). When on vacation, we get concerned with whether one is in the mood for
the veal or cornish hen, how soon can we pack the jumpy kids off to the children's
activities. The seder is in a public dining room with such loud noise you can't hear
yourself think, so there is no ruach (proper spirit) for the seder. Tzneeyus (modesty in
dress and demeanor) required by the Torah is often seriously lacking. People do not invite
guests because they are busy paying to be the hotel's guest. Chazal tell us that when, on
yom tov, we do not have guests, we are worshipping our stomachs, not G-d. The promoters
and hotel owners obviously are looking to make a bundle of money. It is no longer yom tov,
it is party-time. G-d is not pleased. He told us in Parshas Baha'aloscho that if one does
not keep Pesach the right way, as sincere true service of G-d, that the perpetrators will
be severely punished.
The Torah tells us that the one who is "spiritually impure" or "too far
away" on Pesach can have a second chance (with Pesach shaini). Some of us were too
impure or far away - spiritually. This brough the "Pesach Potch (smack)." There
is a price and G-d is making us know it. We can have a second chance, as the prophet
Jeremia tells us [Eicha 4:21], "Return us, G-d, to you and we will do tshuva, renew
our days as they were before." Let us re-examine our ways, our relationship with G-d
and fulfillment of His will, commit ourselves to greater devotion to Torah, to serving G-d
sincerely with a full heart and good attitude, in both the realms of "mitzvos between
man and G-d" and "mitzvos between man and fellow man." Let's do things
right the first time in all aspects of life - and not need punishments and a "second
chance" from now on.
SHEVUOS SPECIAL FOR
SINGLE AND MARRIED PEOPLE: THE PARALLEL BETWEEN THE JOURNEY FROM EGYPT TO SINAI AND
THE JOURNEY FROM SINGLEHOOD TO MARRIAGE
Upon exploring key points in the Torah's
recounting of Israel's journey from Egypt to Mount Sinai and numerous statements by the
Talmudic sages about these points, a striking parallel, if not equalization, emerges
between the journey to Sinai and the journey to one's chupa.
When we consider that Israel was on the
49th level of tuma (spiritual uncleanness) in Egypt, and had come to such tahara
(spiritual cleanness) and kedusha (holiness) that they could receive G-d's holy Torah, it
is apparent that massive turnabout, transformation and spiritual elevation had been
Perhaps the most direct link between
finding one's zivug [mate] and the journey from Egypt to Sinai is from Midrash Beraishis
Raba 64:8. This statement is also brought in the Talmud, but in the Talmud it restricts
applicability to a second marriage. In the midrash here, there is no limitation on the
applicability, so I am citing the midrash specifically, in which this teaching applies
also to a first zivug/marriage.
"[Finding] a person's true mate is as
difficult as splitting the Reed Sea, as is learned from Tehillim 68:7, 'G-d causes singles
to dwell [together] in a house [and thereby] takes the jailed ones out [of jail] with
Just as G-d took Israel out of the
"jail" of Egyptian bondage, G-d takes lonely singles out of the "jail"
of solitude, their singleness. When a person is single, it is like being in jail. Just as
G-d took the Jewish people out of Egypt to be committed to the Torah, G-d takes each
single out of the jail of singlehood to the commitment of marriage, that they may build a
home and dwell together in a house. G-d brings the single "prisoners" out to
"kosher prosperity," as if freed from the jail of alone-ness. In the miraculous
fashion that G-d freed the Jews from Egypt, G-d miraculously matches couples.
Rashi explains the word "kosher"
as meaning the season when G-d took Israel out of Egypt: it was Spring, when weather is
not too cold nor too hot. It was the best, the "kosher," the most agreeable time
for an on-foot journey. We can infer, given the parallel to finding one's mate, that one
marries at the "kosher" time in his or her life - when G-d deems that both
parties and all circumstances are ready...it is the sha'a tova umutzlachas (the good and
A person before marriage can be
self-indulgent, immature, self-oriented, self-preoccupied. This, in terms of one's
"lifeline" and life stage, is the tuma of Egypt. Just as chametz (leaven) on
Pesach (Passover) is so harmful, revolting and punishable; so are individual
manifestations of spiritual deficiencies of selfish, hurtful, egoistic or physical values
and behaviors that characterize the "pre-ready" single. This is key to the
transformation which gets the single to being ready to marry.
Of the holiday of Shevuos, which
commemorates the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, the Torah says (Vayikra 23:15-16)
"And you will count for yourselves from the day after the Sabbath [i.e. the first Yom
Tov day of Pesach]...seven complete weeks...you will number fifty days and [on Shevuos]
sacrifice a 'new offering' to G-d." The Zohar explains that Israel was immersed in
tuma in Egypt like a woman in her nida. She counts seven days till her tahara and Israel
counts seven weeks, with seven holy shaboses "for yourselves" to be purified, to
be cleansed by the dew at the approach of Mount Sinai, to attach to G-d, in purity and
holiness, and to receive the Torah. Rashi to Song Of Songs 3:11 and the last mishna in
tractate Taanis say that Israel's stand at Mount Sinai was analogous to Israel marrying
G-d. Sinai symbolizes marriage, its characteristics and its commitment. G-d "marrying
the Jewish people" through the Torah bond parallels man marrying woman with the
Egypt is synonymous with tuma. In it
reigned avoda zara (idolatry), relatives marrying each other (incest, commonly brothers
and sisters), homosexuality, militarism, materialism, self-centeredness, depravity,
rebellion against G-d...like a catalog of how to live against the Torah.
Israel had been living in Egypt for 210
years and came out of this environment with its completely destructive spiritual
influence. The Exodus was on Pesach, when a bite of chametz was punished by korais
(spiritual extermination). Chametz, which is characterized by "puffing up,"
represents the spiritually unclean, self-centeredness, ego, arrogance, the evil
inclination. The way chametz is leavening expanding, one's sense of self expands, so as to
exclude, the spiritual, the G-dly and other people. One "fills up" with self.
By contrast, the spiritual, G-dly, giving
person empties him/herself of sense-of-self to fill him/herself up with the spiritual, the
divine, the holy, sincere devotion to G-d, empathy and generosity towards others.
This, basically, is the dichotomy and the
contrast between Egypt and Torah, and by extension of our theme, singlehood and marriage.
The tuma of Egypt is so alien, unacceptable and severe, that the Torah mandates such
revulsion and sensitivity that not even a drop of chametz on Pesach, which represents the
characteristics of Egypt - which are antithetical to Torah - and marriage, is allowed.
Sacrifices in the Holy Temple are generally
"kosher for Passover." There is never any chametz except one day of the year -
on Shevuos, the day on which we commemorate G-d's giving of the Torah. Regarding the
citation from Vayikra above, the Kli Yakar (a major commentary on the Torah) writes of,
"new offering to G-d," that Shevuos is the one time of the entire year when an
offering of chametz is commanded by the Torah and is brought in the Holy Temple...in the
Chametz on Pesach is punished by G-d with
the terrible punishment of korais. But after the transition from the tuma of Egypt to the
tahara and kedusha of receiving the Torah on Shevuos, we see from the Torah itself that we
overcome and replace the tuma and yetzer hora (evil inclination) forces. Achievement of
this transition is represented by Sinai. The transformation is so much and so great that
chametz is a commandment on Shevuos! Similarly, going from singlehood to marriage is a
complete spiritual turnaround, elevation and transformation.
The 50 day period which spans the time from
Pesach to Shevuos starts with the Yom Tov (Pesach) on which we read "Song Of
Songs," the allegorical Biblical statement of love between bride and groom,
representing the love between Jew and G-d. Between the exodus from Egypt (at the time of
Pesach) to receiving the Torah at Sinai (Shevuos), there was massive spiritual
purification, elevation and preparation, progressively accomplished in the 50 days to
Israel's "wedding" to G-d. The entire transformation process from single person
to married person parallels the transformation process from slave in Egypt (slave to
spiritually impure forces and influences of Egypt) to free Jew in a spiritually pure and
holy love-bond with G-d. In Song Of Songs, the verse (3:11) says "on the day of his
wedding." As cited above, Rashi and the mishna teach that this refers to the day of
giving the Torah at Sinai, which symbolizes marriage.
After Israel left Egypt, the Egyptians
regretted letting Israel go. The Egyptians decided to get their best armed forces and they
pursued the Jewish people. At the time, Egypt was the world's strongest military power.
Egypt symbolizes the yetzer hora (evil inclination). Their pursuit symbolizes the yetzer
hora's perseverance. It doesn't want to let you go so easily. It pursues you with the
force of a world power. When you decide to grow, move on, transform, your yetzer hora will
come with wiles and power, chasing after. It wants to keep you as its slave.
The place at which the Egyptians came to
overtake fleeing Israel was "Pi Hachiros" which translates "the beginning
of freedom." This was located near the shore of the Reed Sea. Targum Yonoson says
that here Israel obtained monumental wealth by finding jewelry all over the ground.
Valuable stones covered the ground just as the desert sand did. Israel was frightened
then, seeing the Egyptian army pursuing and rapidly catching up with them. G-d commanded
the Jews to go into the sea and obtain His salvation. The people were perplexed and
terrified. They stood in place.
While the nation cried out and complained
about the overtaking, powerful and brutally cruel Egyptian army, Nachshon Ben Aminadav
(the leader of the tribe of Yehuda) went forward into the sea. When the water got up to
his neck, G-d kept His promise, in the merit of Nachshon's trust in G-d, and opened the
sea to save incredulous Israel. When Egypt pursued, in a final effort to capture Israel,
G-d closed the sea on vicious Egypt and the entire army - to the last soldier - all
Escaping the powerful forces of tuma and
yetzer hora (represented by Egypt) is no easy task. One of the main manifestations of
tuma/yetzer hora is self-centeredness. This immature self-orientation is mutually
exclusive with the bondedness, commitment and responsibility of a marriage. A child says,
in various permutations, "I am important and you are not. What I want is important,
what you want is not. I don't care how my self-importance effects you." When the
Torah tells us that the threshold of freedom was Pi Hachiros - and that here the Jews
found a wealth of jewelry just before going into the sea, the Torah is telling us that one
is ready for marriage only when you can see another person as having the worth, beauty,
importance and value of a jewel. You are ready to marry only when you are capable of
seeing another as BEING A JEWEL, recognizing another as being a jewel.
When one finds that "jewel" of a
person, one's mate, is it the "beginning of your freedom?" Do you see that G-d
is taking singles out of jail to dwell together as a home? Do you see yourself as headed
to or from jail? Do you complain (commitment, responsibility, fear of harm or restriction,
nonstop unselfishness, self-control, settling down - oops, I'm better off "back
there" or "safe" alone) or do you go in "up to your neck" with
the trust in G-d - away from the jail of solitude and loneliness towards the liberation
from the "jail of self" that means the wedding chupa (represented by Sinai)?
The forces of tuma will be chasing
aggressively after you, holding onto you, like the Egyptian hoards. By going in "up
to the neck" with Nachshon's trust in G-d and devotion to G-d's word, one proceeds
courageously forward, to see the pursuing enemy, in its final, last-ditch effort to
capture and enslave you with tuma, drowned behind you by G-d. Israel saw the Egyptians
washed dead on the seashore - every last one (Shmos 14:30) and sang a song of praise and
thanksgiving to G-d (Shmos 15:1). Readiness for marriage requires:
* having the ability to see "your
Egypt" entirely dead,
* being able to sing to G-d with joy and
gratitude about that "Egypt of your past" which you left behind, and
* feeling happy and grateful that G-d saved
you from "your Egypt."
As the midrash told us, it is as difficult
to get your soulmate as opening the Reed Sea. Without G-d, opening a sea is impossible.
With G-d, finding your mate is difficult. Without G-d it's not difficult - it's
impossible! With G-d, the "impossible" is routine! He is kol yochol (capable of
any and everything).
But regarding you, it takes your free
choice to "kill the enemy," demonstrate loyalty to and allegiance with the will
of G-d, and to move forward to "your Sinai." When one makes commitment -
"up to the neck" - without looking back - leaving the forces of tuma
irreversibly behind - G-d opens up the "sea" of your life, and you proceed
forward with more wonders, miracles and kindnesses than you can recognize or count.
Psalm represents preparation and
sanctification for marriage. Let me bring its last two verses. "Many are the agonies
of the wicked, but G-d surrounds with lovingkindness the one who trusts Him. Rejoice in
G-d; and delight, you righteous; those with a straight heart will be joyous."
Now that you've decided to make commitment
to your "jewel," how do you make it permanent? The Talmud says [Avoda Zara 20]
that humility leads to fear of sin. Pirkei Avos [chapter 3] says that wisdom which is
preceded by fear of sin lasts permanently. Israel spent 49 days after the Exodus from
Egypt working on perfecting their humility (emptying themselves of ego, tuma,
self-orientation, evil). This humility brought them to fear of sin, which preceded day 50
so that they could receive the wisdom of the Torah, so that the Torah would endure with
them permanently. It was only after the fear of violation of it was cultivated that the
Torah could be given.
Similarly, on the trek from singleness to
marriage, one must cancel the self-centered "tuma facet," developing instead the
quality of humility. Without humility there is only oneself: no G-d and no other people.
The Talmud says that wherever you see G-d's greatness, there you see His humility. There
is nothing great or lasting without humility. Humility leads to fear of sin. Once you are
capable of fear of violation against or sinning against something, you can make commitment
to it. When you actually can feel fear of wronging or sinning against something/someone,
you may make a commitment that you can permanently keep and be part of. Prerequisite to
getting married is a foundation of humility on which is built full FEAR of violating your
mate or marriage in any way.
The giving of the Torah is an analogy to
marriage (Taanis 26b). Just as a groom marries his bride, G-d married the Jewish people.
The Torah is the holy commitment which bonds the Jewish people and G-d the same way that
marriage is the holy commitment which bonds man and wife.
The Torah was given ("matan
Torah"). It is up to the individual to receive it. Marriage is an analogy to Torah.
It is given, but it is up to you to accept and fulfill what is presented beginning when
you are under the chupa.
In the marriage of husbands and wives, each
must also distance and cleanse from the self-slavery and impurity in which a single or
immature person might indulge. The culmination of the greatness of one's self-creation is
when one may conduct marriage in the way of the righteous, and in the way of G-d.
King Solomon wrote (Proverbs 5:19),
"You will always be engrossed with your love for her." The Yalkut, commentaries,
Rambam, and Talmud (Eruvin 54b) explain this verse to refer to Torah with some citing
analogy to the love between male and female. Two of the nice ideas that fit our parallel
is that when one is really devoted to one's love, one constantly renews that love by
ongoing devotion to it and it remains dear at every moment to the one who truly loves. In
love for Torah and for one's wife, one can keep that love going at all times, continually.
By being engrossed in and attentive to that love, one plays a constant and active role in
the maintenance of the permanent love-commitment to a wife. This parallels the Jewish
nation's permanent love-commitment to the Torah.
Just as the Torah enables the Jew to
elevate all particles of matter in the physical world to holiness, Jewish marriage
elevates the relationship of man and wife to the holy. The Torah, through its laws and
lessons, empowers the Jew to extract spirituality out from this world.
When Israel came to Sinai, they were
ki'eesh echad bilaiv echad (like one person with one heart). The entire Jewish people was
unified and could, as a harmonious unit, come to be unified with their Creator.
When one is ready to be one person with one
heart with him/herself, and then become united with his or her "jewel," ready to
treat the other the way one would treat a precious and valuable "jewel,"
relating as one person with one heart, they stand under their chupa to become one
permanently, as Israel and G-d became one permanently at Sinai. The Talmud (Avoda Zara 3a)
tells us that Israel's receiving the Torah at Sinai was the condition for which G-d
created the universe and for maintaining its existence. The Torah (Shmos 19:5) tells us
that it is because we observe the Torah and our covenant with G-d that we are G-d's chosen
nation. The unity and commitment of marriage parallels the unity and commitment between
Israel and G-d, which is the reason for which the world is maintained in existence! The
Jewish people "married" G-d, by their stand at Mount Sinai (on Shevuos),
committing to be faithful forever to the holy covenant with Him. Marriage, similarly, is
faithful commitment to the holy covenant between man and wife forever that starts when
they stand under the chupa (marriage canopy).