Thursday, 29 May 2008

A story of the Holy Arizal - True Compassion, Caring, Empathy and Help!

Dedicated to
Esther bas Nachum Dov Ber
For an Aliyas Neshama

It happened once that Rabbi Shmuel Avazida entered before the holy Arizal. The Rav (the Arizal) stood up in front of him and then seated him to his right. He spoke with him about all his needs, to such a degree that the events happening were rather astounding in front of all those present. When he left, Rabbi Chaim Vital (the student par excellence of the Arizal) asked him what was special about the day, that the Arizal had given so much honour towards Rabbi Shmuel, something that he had never done on previous occasions when he would come and go.

The Arizal replied that he had not stood up for him (i.e. Rabbi Shmuel) but rather that he had stood for Rabbi Pinchas ben Yair (the father-in-law of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, the author of the Zohar who had lived some 1500 years before!) The Arizal explained that Rabbi Pinchas ben Yair had entered together with Rabbi Shmuel because of a Mitzvah that he had done. It was a Mitzvah that Rabbi Pinchas ben Yair was accustomed to do.

When Rabbi Chaim Vital heard this, he ran to greet him (Rabbi Shmuel) and created a friendly atmosphere and repoire with him. Said Rabbi Chaim Vital, "By my life, my master, tell me what Mitzvah did you do today, that which the Rav spoke about?" Rabbi Shmuel responded, "I arose early in the morning to go to shul (the synagogue) as is my custom - to be counted as one of the first of the first ten to arrive. I heard a voice crying greatly coming from one of the houses. And so I turned towards there to know what was happening. I entered and saw that everyone was crying, since it had happened that thieves had come that past evening, and they stole all their clothes and *everything* that they had owned, and my mercy was aroused. And so I removed my very own garments and I gave them to them - and the proof of this is that I am currently wearing my festive Shabbos clothing."

When Rabbi Chaim Vital heard this, he kissed him upon his hand and blessed him!



1. The Tzaddikim - even those in other worlds, are well aware of our deeds in this world. More than this, they are delighted to attach themselves to those who take special care in performing Mitzvahs with all their hearts.

2. When we perform Mitzvos that those Tzaddikim had performed in their lifetimes with care - then they accompany us - often protecting us from many things in this world. They very often help us in understanding many areas of Torah we may not understand on our own. They also may help us in other areas.

3. Tzaddikim (NOTE: TRUE TZADDIKIM) are also able to see with their physical eyes other souls walking in this world and are also aware of the reasons as to why these souls are present.



Many times we simply continue with the humdrum of life, oblivious to the real pain of others. How often it can happen that another person will have such tragedies happen to them (Lo Aleinu) that they can be robbed of their most precious possessions. In such instances, we often turn towards them with an apparently kind word, "Have faith!" - we say. Or perhaps, "Don't you believe in G-d? All is for the good!" We might even say such things as, "Now that G-d has punished you, you will be well compensated and all blessings will flow from this point onwards!"

Often we find ourselves occupied in our own Mitzvos when tragedy may strike another (Lo Aleinu). After all, we have Tefillin to put on, a Minyan to catch! Perhaps it's Sukkos and it's time to get into our Sukkos with a smile on our faces - the time of our happiness - as the Torah calls it! We encounter a Jew who has suffered such a tragedy, and with a smile, we shrug our shoulders, wish them well, barely understanding their pain on this - OUR happy occasion! Indeed, we have Kiddush to make and we simply may hope that the victim find his own way home to tend to his own problems - on his own. We're sure he'll be able to call the police (on Sukkos of course!) and have them come to attend to his loss. And of course, he probably won't feel frightened that evening as he sits in his Sukka - his home robbed of much - wondering if perhaps the thieves will return knowing fully well that the entire home is now wide open!

We can come up with a dozen excuses regarding our behaviour. Whether it's the apparently "kind" word uttered, or the important duties we have to perform. Things will eventually get taken care of.

The Arizal teaches us otherwise. Rabbi Chaim Vital knows better... and Rabbi Shmuel performs the actual deed! There are no excuses to be made. When another is suffering, there is only one way to help... IT IS TO HELP!

As the Baal Shem Tov teaches, "Make your friend's spiritual needs be considered like your physical needs, and make your friend's physical needs be considered like your spiritual needs."

Instead of a righteous attitude and offering false platitudes, the Baal Shem Tov teaches the importance of the immediacy of the situation... TO TAKE ACTION AND HELP ANOTHER IMMEDIATELY! Whether on our way to another Mitzvah... Whether the family concerned may even be apparently deserving of something (just because we rationalise it so!) Or whether it's simply because we apparently have all the perfect right words to say. All of this is WORTHLESS!

What is needed is immediate action - HELP!

When a person behaves in this way, not only does he do what is right - and he will certainly receive his reward, but he merits that a Tzaddik from another world will accompany him on his journies that day. He will bless him, be with him and aid and protect him. Indeed, there are others who know that such things take place. For those of us with spiritual eyes, we will see such things. For those of us with physical eyes, we must be stronger in our faith to be aware that these things do actually happen.

Tuesday, 27 May 2008

The Lubavitcher Rebbe on Israel's Security

Recently I found myself in the most uncomfortable situation of being told by a support engineer for a computer I purchased, that he refused to come out to Beitar Illit - where I live, in order to fix my computer. While the computer was brand new, it was a faulty machine. As a compensation for my troubles, the company was willing to come onsite to attend to the problem. Yet, after I told them that I live in Beitar Illit - they outright refused to come here, explaining that this is "beyond the border" i.e. the green line .

For more information on this see:,

As a result, I was forced into travelling into Jerusalem - a 20 minute drive away from Beitar, in order to have the problem resolved.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe - in the video below, speaks firmly of the importance every Jew has in acknowledging every part of the Land of Israel - as belonging to the Jews. Nothing may be given up - because each part belongs to every Jew. Therefore, no Jew has the right to give up something that belongs to another. In fact, by even considering the possbility of peace through the given up of our Land, we actually bring ourselves to further problems of encouraging the rest of the world to feel that there is even the remotest possibility for negotiations.

There is not! In fact, just the opposite - we MUST admit that our Land is OUR land, and in our every behaviour towards it, we must show and acknowledge well that whether it's Jerusalem or Beitar Illit - this is all of our Land! There is no excuse for a Jew stating that what G-d gave us - He did not... When one is given a gift of such magnitude, one must learn to appreciate every part of it, rather than to drive around with Israeli flags on one's car expressing one's loyalty to the land - then going against every commandment of the Torah - and then furthering the problem by actually admitting to the world that it's not really our country! It sounds quite comical - and yet this is the attitude taken. Israel is ours. It is our gift, and we must treasure it by realising that every part of it is absolutely filled with G-d's Presence. We show our appreciation towards it by means of doing all we can. Fulfilling the wishes of the King in His Palace! This means the complete humility in accepting all of the Torah - including appreciating that there are no negotiations when it comes to Israel. Israel belongs to the Jews - servants (and children of the King) in the Kings Palace.

Zohar - Parshas Bamidbar - "Man" & The Jewish People - A Composite of all Worlds


Matok Midvash

Daf 117a – “Man” & The Jewish People – A Composite of All worlds

In order to understand the coming discourse, we need to precede briefly a few words of the Arizal (Likutei Torah Parshas Ki Tisa.) The reason that with regards to the creation of man only does it say “Let US make man,” in the plural, and not with other creations, is that the Holy One Blessed be He wanted that a person should reach through all the worlds and should connect with all of them. Therefore the Holy One Blessed be He commanded that all worlds should give of themselves to a person – that means the world of Asiya gave him a Nefesh, and Yetzira a Ruach, and Beriya a Neshama. And so too the Partzufim of Atzilut gave of their portion – Nefesh from Malchut, Ruach from Z”A, Neshama from Imma, Chaya from Abba. And therefore He said, “Let US make man” in the plural language – since He “consulted” with all the Partzufim, that all should give of their own will a portion of themselves to a person. And through this, if a person will sin, he will cause a defect in all the worlds, and all of them will request mercy upon him. And if he a person will merit, they will all rejoice and exult in him.

And G-d spoke to Moses in the Sinai desert in the Tent of Meeting on the first of the second month [Iyar]. In order to explain this verse, Rabbi Abba opened, he preceded to explain what is written (Bereishit 1:27), “And G-d created the man in His image, in the image of Elokim He created Him, male and female He created them.” This verse is explained, its explanation has already been said, and now we will explain it in this manner: Come and see, at the time that the Holy One Blessed be He created man, i.e. the first man, that he would be the purpose of the creation – to connect all the worlds and to reach through all of them, He made him in the image of the Supernal beings, by the means that all the Partzufim of Atzilut gave him the sections of the Neshama from their portion, and in the form of the lower beings, by the means that all the Partzufim of the worlds of Beriya, Yetzira and Asiya gave to him the portions of the Neshama from their portion, and he was included with all of the aspects of the Neshamot of all the worlds (which are 600 000 souls – roots of the entire community of Israel that were included in him.) And his light illuminates from the [one] end of the world to the other end of the world, since he was the conduit that draws the Shefa [emanation] to all the worlds from the head to the end, since he was composed of all of them. And all of the creations feared him, as our Sages said, that even the ministering angels wanted to recited before him “Holy…”, for he was complete and perfect in the image of Elokim [G-d] upon his face.

And even though they already explained it – this verse, nevertheless, there is to look and reflect at this verse, that it is written “And Elokim created the man in his image, in the image of Elokim He created him,” and he asks, “Since it said ‘In His image,” what does it mean, “In the image of Elokim He created him”? Why did it double and repeat again and say “In the image of Elokim”? And he answers, “But certainly,” “In His image,” “In the image of Elokim,” are two levels composed of male and female, that means, as it is said “And Elokim created the man in His image,” which is an abbreviation “בצל"ם ו' [BeTzelem” and “Vav”] which is the secret of Tzelem Vavone [Tzelem] for male and as is written "בצלם אלקים ברא אותו" this means Tzelemone [mention of the word Tzelem] for female, which is the secret of Malchut which is called Elokim.

And since they are two levels, therefore Zu”N of Atzilut, and corresponding to them Adam and Eve below, they were certainly two Partzufim below, and the end of the verse proves this, as it is written, “Male and female He created them.”

And he said further, Adam was composed of two sides, he was composed also of the female aspect, and even though the female was co-joined on his side, from this it appeared that we didn’t need these rules, indeed, behold, she herself was composed of two sides, for she consisted of the male aspect as well, in order that they would be complete [perfect] in everything – all aspects, this means the potential [strength] of the male in the female and the potential [strength] of the female in the male, since a man is the aspect of MaH and included in him the BaN of Mah, and Chava [Eve] is the aspect of BaN and includes in her the Mah of BaN! And so it comes out that Adam and Chava were both included with each side. [They were completely intertwined within each other in every aspect, with Adam having Chava included in him, and Chava having Adam included in her.]

And the first man – Adam, looked with the wisdom of the Supernal beings in spiritual matters, and with the wisdom of the lower beings in the matters of nature in order to know the dependence of each on the other. And since his head was in Atzilut, he had the potential to draw down the light of Atzilut until the ends of all the worlds. And since he sinned, the Supernal Partzufim were diminished until Zu”N descended and it’s height was diminished greatly from what it was in the beginning while above, and so too did Adam cause the descents of the worlds of Biya into the worlds of separation through his sin, that there [in the three worlds of Biya] there is no aspect of Atzilut. And therefore, the wisdom of Atzilut departed from him, and he could no longer see any further except to those things applicable to the needs of the body.

After he sinned, he gave birth to children from the higher [worlds] and from the lower [worlds]. This means to say that Hevel [Abel] was from the higher worlds since he had a supernal and holy soul, and Kayin [Cain] was from the lower worlds as he was born from the pollution of the snake. And both of them were unable to dwell in the world, since Hevel was killed, and Kayin was wiped out in the flood, until there was born a son from which the world was planted, who was called Shet [Seth], since from him the world was established [הושתת – the middle letters of the word “was established” contain the root letters Shet] and laid. And so it has been explained.

[The Zohar continues with the progression of the great foundation souls of the world, from Avraham to Yitzchak to Yaakov, the 12 tribes, to the 70 souls that descended into Egypt.]

And nevertheless the world was still not complete until the Jewish people accepted the Torah at Mount Sinai, and the Tabernacle was erected, that through this was the erection of the Supernal Tabernacle – which is the Shechina [the Indwelling Divine Presence,] and then all the worlds were established and completed, and the upper and lower beings and worlds were scented and sweetened.


Bold print: Original Zohar
Ordinary text: Matok Midvash
[Square brackets]: ELIYAHU ben PINCHAS

(Round brackets): Either the source being quoted e.g. Proverbs etc., or alternatively used to quote the kabbalistic language as discussed in Matok Midvash. The Matok Midvash formats the Nigleh side of things in an ordinary print, and the Nistar terminology in Rashi script. I’ve therefore put the Rashi script – the Nistar terminology in round brackets.

Monday, 19 May 2008

Hayom Yom - Iyar 14 - Pesach Sheini


Dedicated to the following for an Aliyas Neshama:
Nathan Gershon ben Nathan
Chaim ben Yitzchak HaKohein
Ruth bas Lieb

"The matter concerning Pesach Sheini is that there is no such thing as loss [to despair from rectifying something.] It is never too late! It is always possible to rectify. Even a person who was impure, or was a far distance away and even 'to you' that the thing was with ones will. Nevertheless it is possible to rectify"

The lesson for today is a simple one. It is never too late and there is always hope! Rabbi Nachman - the Breslov Rebbe (1772-1810) would say "There is no such thing as despair. If you believe you can destroy, believe you can repair!"

Today is known as the second Passover. What are we actually celebrating?

In the book of Bamidbar - Number, (Chapter 9 vv 1-14), G-d addresses Moses and commands him with the commandment of the Paschal Lamb. The Paschal Lamb was offered on the 14th day of the month of Nissan in the afternoon.

This lamb represented the freedom of the Jewish people from slavery. And because of the nature of blood - much like the commandment of circumcision, it also represented the sealing of the covenant between G-d and the Jewish people.

However, there were some Jews who were not able to partake of this offering. Some who had been contaminated by a corpse, and so they approached Moshe and Aharon and asked what could be done. Why should they lose out?! After all it was none of their doing that caused them to forfeit from the Mitzvah to be connected to G-d. It just did not seem fair. Certainly if they had done something wrong willfully, they might think that they would not be deserving of this honor of offering the Paschal Lamb, but it had been none of their own doing that caused them to forfeit this special Mitzvah.

Moshe asked G-d what could be done, and G-d replied that anybody who had been contaminatied by a corpse, or who had been on a distant road - these people could still offer this Paschal Lamb. Although they obviously could not do so in the "correct" time, they were still permitted to offer it - in the second month - Iyar, on the fourteenth day - today!

A person who had willfuly not taken part in the offering of the Paschal Lamb, was not however permitted to partake of the privilege of the "second offering". Unfortunately he did not get off lightly for having deliberately removed himself from this essential commandment of the Torah. (See Numbers 9:13)

While we should not be lead to feel we can do what we wish and that G-d will simply forgive - or perhaps even consider our knowledge of G-d so great that we assume he already knows what will be and therefore our service below has no meaning for Him, we should well consider the section of Torah regarding the second Paschal Lamb.

Each day, when we awaken, we are confronted with myriads of Mitzvot (commandments) to perform. In fact, they are infinite - even when we seem to feel we can count them during the day. From saying "Modeh Ani" - and thanking G-d for awakening us and restoring our soul in the morning, to keeping the laws of Kashrus - every day, the Shabbos once a week - and the laws of family purity - every day, to the Mitzvos of hospitality (which can occur at any moment), we can literally fill up our entire day with serving G-d, not letting up for a moment. Much like the forefathers who were Chariots for the Divine. Much like a car or vehicle does the will of it's owner, so too did the forefathers do the will of G-d - no matter what was required. No questions asked! (Even when it seems like there are!)

But, because there is so much to do each day, we find ourselves not always been able to achieve everything. And so, many times we stumble. Not on purpose of course. Rather, we just cannot do it anymore. We feel we just cannot achieve everything. And so, if it's not being able to wake up early enough to pray with a Minyan, or it was accidentally switching on a light on Shabbos, we realise we aren't perfect!

The Torah wants us to be as perfect as possible - for we are created in the image of G-d and contain within ourselves a G-dly soul, but in fact, for progress, we need to take a few steps back. Much like a runner, who before the race begins, actually pushes his foot backwards on the stone behind his foot in order to give him the leverage to run. Or like the high jumper, who must take a few steps backwards in order to get a good run up before jumping over the high beam above him.

In fact, the steps backward are not only *not* backwards, they are very often forwards. The Torah calls this a Yerida LeTzorech Aliyah - a descent for the purpose of an ascent! We go down in order to go up. Much like the soul comes down into this world - the ultimate descent - in order to go even higher when it eventually leaves this world.

And so, we must be aware that when we stumble, there is always hope, another chance! Sometimes it may come about immediately, and other times, it may take a month! And sometimes it may even be years before one can repair oneself completely!

The main thing is that despair does not exist, and to be aware than one can always correct what one may have done wrong.

There is always another chance!


Eat a piece of Matzah some time during the day as a reminder of the second Passover! You do not have to keep the strict laws concerning the eating of Matzah as was done on the first night of the first Pesach i.e. at the Seder, and even those who are careful not to eat Matzah mixed with water - may do so happily today!


Today is the Yarhtzeit (the anniversary of the death) of Rabbi Meir Baal HaNes. Rabbi Meir the miracle maker. Those who have lost objects may know that in order to find them, we ask the G-d of Meir to help us find them by reciting a short prayer to this effect.

Sunday, 18 May 2008

Zohar Parshas Bechukosai - Balak and Bilaam - Sorcerers and Magicians!


Matok Midvash

Daf 112a-b Balak and Bilaam
Sorcerers and Magicians who have no Power over the Jewish People!

If you will go in My statutes and guard my commandments and do them. Since words of rebuke are written about in this Parsha, therefore Rabbi Chiya opened, he preceded to explain the verse (Micah 6:5) “My nation, please remember what Balak the king of Moav advised”, as if to say, surely his advice was to destroy you from the world by means of calling Bilaam to curse you at the time of [Divine] anger. And what did Bilaam the son of Beor answer him, “How can I curse when G-d has not cursed?” The language “My nation please remember,” are words of rebuke, and he preceded and said, “Happy is the portion of this nation” – the children of Israel“That their Master rebukes them this way.” “My nation, please remember,” this means, even though you have turned away from My paths, and for this reason you were deserving of the curse of Bilaam, nevertheless you are My nation. I did not want to punish you and do to you in accordance with what should have come about as a result of your deeds. If so, these are words of rebuke through love.

Rabbi Yitzchak said – he argued and said that they are not words of rebuke, but rather words of apology. This means to say, all My desire is to do good for you, and from the mouth of the Supernal One there does not come bad, and it is only your sins that cause these punishments. And this is what he said, “Happy is the portion of this nation” – the nation of the children of Israel, “That their Master said to them,” the previous verse, (Micah 6:3) “My nation, what did I do to you?” – remember how much good I did for you, “And what is the thing that I wearied out for you to make my yoke heavy upon you, testify about Me to say behold in this you have saddened Me?” And it continues to say here, see how much good I have done to you. And this is what is written, “What Balak king of Moav advised,” through various words and actions of different types of magic and sorcery, he, Balak – said to destroy you from the world, and how much magic he awoke against you, but I did not allow him to do bad to you as described later.

Rabbi Yossi said, the Holy One Blessed be He said to the children of Israel, (Michah 6:5) “Please remember,” in the way of remembrance, and we didn’t hear his voice. Therefore: Woe to us that we cry out every day and we moan and cry and say, (Eichah 5:1) “Remember G-d what happened to us.” And we also cry, (Tehillim 137:7) “Remember G-d to the children of Edom,” and He, the Holy One Blessed be He does not want to watch over us, and not G-d forbid that there is forgetfulness by G-d, rather He pays measure for measure, for he said to us “I request of you, please remember.” And “נא” is the expression for “please.” And we did not pay attention to Him. Similarly, measure for measure, we cry out, “Please remember what happened to us! Remember G-d to the children of Edom! (Tehillim 74:2) Remember Your nation whom you acquired from before! (Tehllim 106:4) Remember me G-d when You show Your nation favor!” And G-d does not want to pay attention to us.

Rabbi Yehuda said, “Certainly, the Holy One Blessed be He watches over us continuously and remembers us – to do good to us,” and don’t say like Rabbi Yossi that the Holy One Blessed be He does not want to pay attention to us. For if not that He would watch over Israel and remember them, they would not be able to exist for one day in exile. This is what is written, “And even this also when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not despise them and I will not loathe them to destroy them to nullify my covenant with them, for I am G-d their G-d. The Holy One Blessed be He does not do to us in accordance with our deeds.

Come and see, Balak was wise and the greatest of magicians through the work of his hands, more so than Bilaam. And so we have learned that everything that a person wants to do in this world in the service of the Holy One Blessed be He, he has to awaken through the action of the commandments below, the root of the Mitzvah above. And this action below awakens the root of the action of the Mitzvah above. And this action below needs to be in holiness, and so it has been established. And in a place where there is not the action of the Mitzvah, there is the speech [aspect] of the Mitzvah, and then through the speech of the mouth the action is dependent to awaken the source from above.

And he said that just as we need to awaken the supernal holiness through action or speech, so too those [things] that come about through the side of impurity need to awaken their side in action or speech of the mouth. And even though that Bilaam was a magician – he was the greatest of all magicians in the world, but Balak was a great sorcerer, that means Balak was the greatest of all the sages of sorcery of magic, and Bilaam was great in נחש [another form of magic.] Kesemקסם- and נחשNachash are two degrees [of magic]. Kesem is dependant upon action, (since the root of the soul of Balak was from the dregs and dross of Imma that in her is the root of action, and the essence of action is in Malchus. Therefore Kesem is in Nukvah of the bad of Klipat Nogah.) Nachash is not dependant upon action but rather upon looking with the eyes and speaking with the mouth, (for the root of the soul of Bilaam was from the dregs and dross of Yesod of Abba, that in Abba is the root of speech, and also the root of sight is in Abba, and the essence of speech is in Z”A. Therefore Nachash is in the Dechura [male] of the portion of bad of the Klipat Nogah). And then the spirit of impurity is awoken upon them to enclothe itself in them, and it does what it does to cause harm to people.

And Israel who are holy are not so, but rather all of them are holy, and all their deeds are in order to awaken upon them holy Divine Spirit [רוח הקודש], like it says, (Yeshayahu 32:15) “Until he – the Holy One Blessed be He – pours upon us a spirit from above.” And upon this it is written, (Bamidbar 23:23) “For there is no Nachash in Jacob and no Kesem in Israel,” for they are held on the side of supernal holiness, and their deeds come through holiness, and holiness awakens upon them and they are enclothed in it.

Come and see, Balak was the greatest of all wise men in Kesem and Bilaam was the greatest in Nachash, and therefore at the time that Balak wanted to unite with him – Bilaam, what is written? “And the elders of Moav and the elders of Midyan and “Kesamim” in the hand.” For this was the strength of Balak.

Come and see, through the strength of the magic of the word of the mouth, Bilaam was the greatest of all magicians of the world, and by looking at the Nachash he would know how to direct the moment to know the moment when the Holy One Blessed be He is angry, for when one curses at that moment, the curse will transpire. And therefore Balak wanted to complete the thing with Kesem and the Nachash, and therefore he wanted to unite with Bilaam.

The Holy One Blessed be He said to him – to Bilaam, wicked one, you wish to curse my children, behold my children already preceded you with Mitzvot and good deeds, that through this your curse will not transpire upon them, for the action of the Mitzvah is between them, that through this – all the bad sides and types of bad forces and all magic in the world are not able to come close to them. And further, all of them flee from “it”. And what is “it”? The Tent of Meeting and the holy vessels and the things used for the service of the Holy Temple, and the incense spices that nullify all the anger and fury of the world above and below, and the Olot [daily sacrifices] and the sacrifices that are offered every day, and the two altars to offer and to do the service of the offerings that are fitting for the outside altar, and the incense spices that are fitting for the inner altar, and the Table and the Showbread, and the Basin and it’s stand to wash the hands and the feet of the Kohanim, that through this they nullify all the strengths of the Chitzonim [external forces of unholiness], and further, a number of other utensils to nullify the power of the action of Kesem.

And to nullify the power of the Nachash which is the power of the mouth, the children of Israel have the Ark and the two Tablets of the Torah, that from them the Jewish people learn the Torah with their mouths, and the Ark of the Covenant for atonement upon the nation through the prayers that are in their mouths each day, and through this the Jewish people stand against the Nachash which is the concept of speech of the mouth.

Since that wicked one [Bilaam] saw this, he said, “For there is no Nachash in Jacob and no Kesem in Israel,” that whether Nachash or Kesem – neither are able to harm the Jewish people. And what is the reason? And he said “For, G-d, their G-d is with them,” which is Z”A – the secret of speech is with them in the power of the Mitzvot through speech that they fulfil with their mouths. “And the shouting [crying, trumpet blowing] of the King is with it,” this means the Malchus which is the companion of the king Z”A, and this is the secret of the deed which is also with them through the power of the Mitzvot of action that they fulfil.

And he returns to his first words and said, and therefore the Holy One Blessed be He said to Israel, “My nation, please remember,” which means, “Please I request of you, remember that time that Balak and Bilaam united to destroy you,” but they didn’t, “For I held you like a father holding his son, and does leave him in the hands of another.”


Bold print: Original Zohar
Ordinary text: Matok Midvash
[Square brackets]: ELIYAHU ben PINCHAS

(Round brackets): Either the source being quoted e.g. Proverbs etc., or alternatively used to quote the kabbalistic language as discussed in Matok Midvash. The Matok Midvash formats the Nigleh side of things in an ordinary print, and the Nistar terminology in Rashi script. I’ve therefore put the Rashi script – the Nistar terminology in round brackets.

Iyar 13 - Know that Everything Above is from You


"At Mincha (today) we say Tachanun"

The above teaching relates to the joyous day of tomorrow - Iyar 14 - Pesach Sheni. While tomorrow is a joyous day and therefore we do not recite Tachanun, nevertheless we still do say Tachanun at Mincha today. Usually the custom is not to say Tachanun on the day preceding a day that does not require Tachanun to be said. In our case however, we still do recite Tachanun at Mincha today.

"The Alter Rebbe (Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liady - 1745-1812) - in those years when he would say short discourses, said: 'Know what is above you (as is traditionally translated comes to teach that a person should have fear of sin in being aware that Someone is watching! In our case however, the Alter Rebbe explained it differently) - Know that what is above is from you (the Hebrew word 'Mimcha' can be translated either as 'above you' or 'is from you.'). Know, that whatever is above - the Partzufim and the Supernal Sefirot - everything is from you. This is all dependent on the service of man.'"

The original teaching in Pirkei Avos teaches us that we are required to be aware of the Creator of the world. We should go about our daily activities being aware that G-d is above us, aware of our actions and constantly watching us, judging us and also taking care of us in whatever we need.

While this could have negative connotations in our thinking of G-d as a "hating" and "vengeful" G-d (G-d forbid!), ready to strike us down with a bolt of lightning, should we do anything wrong, it should rather have the positive connotation of making us aware of our duty to do what is right in the world - because this is ultimately what G-d really wants from us. Indeed, the fact that for the most part (in a revealed manner), our lives are constantly filled with miracles in everything from the ways our bodies work, to the ways in which sustenance comes to us, to the miracles of nature, these things should be large enough signs that in fact G-d is running the world for our good - and not to take harsh judgmental action against us. Nevertheless it is not for us to think that G-d will simply give into our limited ways of thinking, and thereby simply bestow upon us constant revealed good, no matter what we do. Rather, it is up to us to be aware that we are required to work on ourselves, to do good for ourselves and others - and for G-d Himself. "Know what is above you" - G-d... watching and being aware of every single thing we think, speak and do.

The Alter Rebbe however explained the Hebrew translation differently. "Know what is above is FROM you." Everything that happens, whether to ourselves or the world in general is because of our actions (our speech and our thoughts!) In Kabbalah we call this an "Awakening from Below". The "Awakening from Below" causes an "Awakening from Above!" Once we behave in a certain way, it causes an action with the exact same power to be brought down below.

Much like the rain we receive coming from the clouds, is only actually the waters from the ground that have evaporated and have risen into the heavens - in order to bestow blessing upon us, so too our "awakenings from below" cause our efforts to "evaporate" upwards, ultimately causing a measure for measure bestowal of goodness into this world in accordance with our deeds (speech and thought!)

In fact, the very way in which the Kabbalistic universes function, is literally in accordance with everything we do. When we recite a blessing on food before eating, we cause an elevation of our thoughts and speech, which in turn causes a bestowal of blessing into the food which then blesses our bodies and souls with the necessary nutrients to think straight and behave correctly! When we put on Tefillin, observe the Shabbat day, follow the laws of Family Purity etc., we awaken "things" below, which in turn causes awakenings above, and so those "things" that we see coming about in this world are actually coming about from our efforts in this lower world.

Consider your next thought, word, or action, and imagine the power of it as it evaporates above, and the blessing that will come through the goodness in the thoughts, words, or actions that you are doing. If of course those thoughts, words or actions are not in accordance with Torah, imagine well what possible effects these could have. Then, watch life happen and see the effects of your efforts. It is not for nothing that things are happening in the ways they are. It is you who are making them flow in the exact ways that are currently happening!

Wednesday, 14 May 2008

Iyar 9 - A Teaching of the Baal Shem Tov - Learn from Everything!



"Our teacher the Besht (the Baal Shem Tov, founder of Chassidus, lived from 1698-1760, but continues to live in all the teachings of Chassidut to this day) said, 'Every single thing that a person sees or hears is a teaching for his/her conduct in his/her service of G-d. This is the idea of 'service' to understand and to comprehend from everything a way to serve G-d'"

The Baal Shem Tov turned Torah the right side up!

It seemed in those days over 300 years ago that there was something missing in serving G-d. The Baal Shem Tov came not to create any sort of new Torah - G-d forbid - but rather to simply shine the light onto the Torah that was already there. To bring out of the darkness those parts of Torah that seemed to be truly hidden away - perhaps even disregarded for man's own selfish purposes, or perhaps because man simply wanted a Torah of his own - even if it would mean burning in the depths of the most lowest worlds. All, of course, in the name of G-d and purifying the world and more so oneself.

But the Baal Shem Tov - a soul far greater than most of us can even begin to understand, brought the Torah back into the realms of beauty, kindness, goodness and happiness! He did not set out to change anything in Torah, to add or subtract. He did not set out to make the simple people great, or even to lower the great. Rather he set out to bring G-dliness into this world - the Torah - in the way it was given at Har Sinai - the Mountain of Sinai.

A beautiful story is told of the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe - Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneerson (1880-1950.) He was once at an important meeting which was held in an auditorium with a dome-like ceiling. In fact, the ceiling was a most beautiful one, only for the fact that the lighting wasn't as good as it is today. As a result the beautiful art on the dome could not be seen.

It turned out that the person seated next to the Rebbe felt most uncomfortable. Being seated next to a Rebbe could probably make most people feel a little uncomfortable, but usually on account of the vast difference in levels of holiness between the Rebbe and ourselves. But for this person, this discomfort came from his uneasiness about being seated next to someone who continued in the teachings of the holy Baal Shem Tov - something most foreign to him. Perhaps the word foreign would be an understatement - and the feelings were one of contempt and disdain at a person - a man of flesh and blood - who would choose to follow an "innovator" of Torah. What kind of teachings can a man provide that the Torah did not already say - and why did one have to follow such teachings? While the flames of the Mitnagdim (those who are against the teachings of Chassidut) have died down tremendously, there is nevertheless a great amount of them still flickering around the world. In fact, so much so, that many today will sacrifice joining a Chassid on his journey to spreading the wellsprings of Torah out - simply because he has chosen to follow a Chassidic Rebbe!

This person expressed his disdain towards Chassidut as he spoke to the Rebbe. Naturally the Rebbe was not offended by his uncouth remarks, but instead told the man off gently - and beautifully! The Rebbe replied to him with a parable. He happened to have a torch on him, and after switching it on, briskly tilted the torch towards the beautiful ceiling, revealing the exquisite art.

This, he said, is what the Baal Shem Tov came to do in the world - to do for the Torah. While the ceiling had been above their heads all the time - filled with the extraordinary artwork in a variety of colors, it was all hidden, simply because there was a lack of light upon it! With a swift movement and a shining of just a small light, the entire dome and it's beauty became revealed!

The Baal Shem Tov did not come to invent anything new in Torah - not even one of his teachings are new! Rather, he came - with his teachings and words, to reveal what the Torah had been speaking of all the time. His pupil and Rebbe to follow in his footsteps, the Maggid of Mezritch continued that path too. So too did his pupil - the Alter Rebbe. And in a successive lineage that followed the Alter Rebbe, a total of 7 Chabad Rebbes took over the helms of the holy Baal Shem Tov, revealing nothing more of the Torah than what was already there!

As King Solomon - the wisest of all men - said, "There is nothing new under the sun... what is, already was!" And so, while it may seem externally and visibly that there are new Torah inventions of all varieties due to certain events having taken place, in fact, these teachings are rooted in the original Torah itself. Sometimes, one will find the truth from the Bible - the Chumash. Sometimes one will find the truth in the Prophets, the Writings, sometimes in the Mishna, the Gemorrah or the Midrashim. And sometimes, one may need to plumb a little deeper into the teachings of Kabbalah - and especially as they come through the teachings of Chassidus.

But the most important thing to realize is the sheer volume and infinity of Torah. What seems to us as something that cannot be - may well be. But it may take a full time of learning before we understand it. Meanwhile, we can rest easy each day and night, knowing well that great souls such as the holy Baal Shem Tov have already understood these things, paving the way to make our understanding clearer and easier to deal with!

One can almost imagine this... if indeed I would have already traveled through EVERY area of Torah and still imagine myself to know the truth - and that it does not correspond to some of the ideas I have heard - especially in the teachings of Chassidus, then perhaps - just maybe - I may have something to rely upon. But, perhaps, without the full knowledge of the entire corpus of Torah, maybe there is still something to be humble about, to realize that there well may be more to this world than my own mind can conceive.


In our teaching for today, the Baal Shem Tov speaks about getting by in life, and knowing how to serve G-d correctly.

Our days are so filled with so many things that we barely have time to think about G-d altogether. There's attending to earning a living, taking care of the family, eating, attending to bodily needs and so on, one can forget about G-d altogether!

How are we to remind ourselves about G-d, and how are we to know what to do? Why are we experiencing the things we are experiencing today - and with the people who we encounter? Why do we have to see the crazy things - we sometimes see? And of course, the beautiful images too! Why do we have to hear the nonsense we so often hear? Or is it?!

Torah - truth - G-dliness - is about realizing that G-d fills everything and encompasses everything. There is nothing devoid of Him at all. No space, no time, no person, no item, no nothing... G-d is everything and everything is G-d. People, animals, plants, stones, nature. It is all G-d! Words, sounds, pictures... it is all G-d. There is nothing but G-d!

If so, we have an awesome lesson to learn. If everything is G-d, we can learn from everything. No matter what we see, or what we hear. There is something to learn from everything. In some things, we may learn to stay away from things - and in others, we may learn to gravitate towards them. There is nothing "bad" in this world - for everything is G-d. There is only that that we must learn from in order to serve G-d better - correctly! Each of us needs to grow, just as a tree that never stops growing. Naturally even a tree goes through spring, summer, fall and winter.... but it remains a tree nonetheless. At times it's fruit is beautiful and tasty, and at other times, it's leaves wither and fall off. But there is nothing bad about a tree.

So too in our lives, there will always be seasons - 28 of them according to King Solomon (Kohelet Chapter 2.) And each person we encounter will be working through their own seasons too... different from our own. And life will be filled with it's own seasons too... different from our own. And just when we feel we understand it all and are on the path to perfection, we find something in our way yet again...

But the Baal Shem Tov reassures us - learn from everything you see or hear. No matter what it is, it can and must be used in one's service towards G-d.

How?! How does one know how to learn from all this infinite array of sights and sounds?! For this one must set oneself a program - to spend time each day involved in learning. One must find for oneself a Rebbe - a teacher and guide - who will look objectively at those times when we ourselves cannot - and guide us through helping us achieve what we need to. To learn from everything in the right way, so that we ourselves can grow to become the artistic souls hidden engraved upon the dome of that ceiling - waiting for a light to illuminate us and show us that we are there and we are beautiful.

It is no coincidence then
The Jewish people, G-d and the Torah are all one! (Zohar III 73a)

Monday, 12 May 2008

Zohar Parshas Behar - Charity Saves From Death





Rabbi Chiya and Rabbi Yossi – these friends - were walking along the road. They encountered a mountain. They found two men that were walking along the road. Meanwhile, they saw a person coming and arriving by the two men, and he said to them “Please I request from you a favor, would you give me bread to eat, for it has been two days that I have been wandering astray in the desert and I have not eaten a thing.”

One of the two men slipped aside and went away from him on the side and took out his food that he had brought for his provisions along the way and he gave it to him. And he fed him and gave him to drink. His friend said to him, “What will you do if you need food? Since I am going to eat my food and I will not give you of my food.” He - his friend said to him, “And what do you think, do I rely upon your food to go along the way?” That poor man sat next to him until he had eaten all that he had by him, and the bread that was still left over he gave to the poor man for the journey, and he went on his way.

Rabbi Chiya said to Rabbi Yossi, “The Holy One Blessed be He did not want this thing – this Mitzvah – to be done by us.” Rabbi Yossi said to Rabbi Chiya, “Perhaps a certain judgment had been decreed on this person, and the Holy One Blessed be He wanted to arrange before him this Mitzvah in order to save him.”

While they were walking along the way, the man who had given the poor man bread, became weary and tired on account of his hunger. His friend said to him, “Didn’t I say to you that you shouldn’t give your bread to this other?” Rabbi Chiya said to Rabbi Yossi, “Let us give our bread that we have by us, to him to eat. Rabbi Yossi said to Rabbi Chiya, “Do you want to take away from him the merit? For his merit is much greater – for according to the pain, so is the reward, and the main way of his salvation is that even in his distress he should not regret his Mitzvos. Let us go and see, for certainly the form of this man’s face beholds the appearance of death – this means to say that the decree of death has been decreed upon him. And the Holy One Blessed be He wants to arrange for him the merit of the Mitzvah in order to save him from death.”

Meanwhile that man sat and slept under a tree, and his friend distanced himself from him and sat somewhere else. Rabbi Yossi said to Rabbi Chiya, “Now let us sit and watch, that certainly the Holy One Blessed be He wants to perform a miracle for him!” They arose and waited there.

Meanwhile they saw a wild animal [rattle-snake?] filled with flames of anger standing next to him. Rabbi Chiya said to Rabbi Yossi, “Woe to that man for he is about to die!” and they didn’t have the ability to save him. Rabbi Yossi said to Rabbi Chiya, “Fortunate is this man that the Holy One Blessed be He will perform a miracle for him!”

Meanwhile another snake descended from the tree and wanted to kill that man. The wild creature arose and killed it [the other snake.] And afterwards the wild creature [rattle-snake?] turned it’s head and went away.

Rabbi Yossi said to Rabbi Chiya, “Didn’t I say to you that the Holy One Blessed be He wanted to perform a miracle for him, and that you shouldn’t diminish his merits from him by giving him food?” Meanwhile that man awoke, got up and went onwards. Rabbi Chiya and Rabbi Yossi grabbed him and gave him to eat. After he ate they showed him the miracle that the Holy One Blessed be He performed for him.

Rabbi Yossi opened and said, [to explain what is written] (Tehillim 37:3) “Trust in G‑d and do good, dwell in the land and shepherd faith.” And he said, “Fortunate is the portion of a person who does good from what is his, and not from stolen things, for he awakens the flow of Yesod which is called good, to bestow good to the Congregation of Israel which is Malchus. And with what does he awaken the good? And he said, “Through the strength of the merit of Tzedakkah [charity.]” For when Tzeddakah – which is Yesod HaTiferes – the Foundation of Beautyis awoken to bestow through Yesod, then the good – which is the Yesodis awoken to bestow to the Malchus [Kingship] towards the Congregation of Israel.

And about this it is written, (Mishlei 10:2) “And Tzeddakah saves from death.” What is the reason that through charity one is saved from death? Because Tzeddakah is the Tree of Life which is the Tiferes of Z”A [the Beauty of Zeir Anpin] which bestows abundance to Yesod, and it awakens the tree of death, which is the Malchus to sweeten it’s judgments, whose decrees are death, and also her legs descend to death. And it takes those who hold on to it by means of bestowing an abundance of life and converts from death to life, and it’s decrees are nullified. And it saves them from death. And all of this comes about through Tzeddakah. If so, who causes the Tree of Life which is Tiferes that it should awaken to this to sweeten the judgments of Malchus? Say it is the charity that a person does, so to speak, it is considered to him as if he did it above. This means to say that he rectified Malchus above, that it should unify with Z”A which is called the Tree of Life. Like it says, (Tehillim 106:3) “Do Tzeddakah at every moment,” for he rectifies through charity the Malchus which is called “Eit” [a time], through the Yesod which is called “Kol” [every.] And so we have learned this matter fittingly.

And this that it says “Trust in G-d,” that He will give you sufficient for your lack, “And do good,” means – that you should give charity for the rectification of Yesod. And through this you will be saved from death, and then “Dwell in the land,” that you will be in this world, “And shepherd faith,” and you will merit many more Mitzvos in the merit of faith.


Bold print: Original Zohar
Ordinary text: Matok Midvash
[Square brackets]: ELIYAHU ben PINCHAS

(Round brackets): Either the source being quoted e.g. Proverbs etc., or alternatively used to quote the kabbalistic language as discussed in Matok Midvash. The Matok Midvash formats the Nigleh side of things in an ordinary print, and the Nistar terminology in Rashi script. I’ve therefore put the Rashi script – the Nistar terminology in round brackets.

Zohar Parshas Emor - Journey of the Soul Leaving Her Body


Matok Midvash




[Parshas Emor begins with a vital law regarding Kohanim. A Kohein [priest] is forbidden to become impure by being in contact with a dead body. This passage of Zohar speaks of the reasons as to why a body without a soul is considered impure, and why it is forbidden to leave a dead body overnight before burial.]

Come and see. At the time that a person stands to go to that world, the supernal world, i.e. at the time that the soul leaves the body, and he is "in hospital", he is already lying on his [death] bed [ready to leave this world] three messengers come to him – three angels of judgment. And a person sees there what a person could not see while he is in this world. And that day is the day of Supernal Judgment. That the King Blessed be He requests the return of His deposit, i.e. the soul that He deposited into the hand of man. Happy is the man who returns the deposit to the King Blessed be He as clean as it was given to him without sin or wrongdoing, but rather is filled with Torah and Mitzvot. But if the deposit is soiled with the dirt of the desires of the body, what will he say to the Master of the deposit when He claims from him as to why he soiled the deposit that was entrusted into his hand.

He lifts his eyes and sees the Angel of Death standing in front of him. And his sword is drawn in his hand, and he breaks and separates the four foundation joints of the person. And there is nothing harder for the soul of all punishments that he had throughout his life, than the separation from the body. And no man dies before seeing the Shechina [the Indwelling Presence of G-d.] And due to the abundance of yearning of the soul towards the ray of [light] of the Shechina, it leaves the body to welcome Her. After the soul leaves the body, what soul can cleave to the Shechina and be received inside Her? And behold we have already described these things in another place.

After the soul leaves the body and the body remains without the spirit of life, it is forbidden to leave it - the body, without burial, as it is written “Do not leave his corpse on the tree, you shall surely bury it on that very day.” (Devarim 21:23.) And it is explained that since the dead body waits 24 hours which is day and night without burial (this is the most of amount of time allowed,) it gives [causes] a weakness in the limbs of the Supernal Chariot, that a man below hints to it. For just as there is a hold of the Chitzonim [the external impure forces] below on the body of the dead person, so too, they [the Chitzonim] are able to hold [and attach] above G‑d forbid.

And there is a second reason for not allowing the body to remain overnight. It prevents the Holy One Blessed be He from doing His work [so to speak], since it is possible that the Holy One Blessed be He decreed upon him - this soul, that it should come into another incarnation, immediately on the day that it died, in order to benefit the person to repair his soul through reincarnation. And all the while that the body is not buried, the soul cannot enter before the Holy One Blessed be He, and it is unable to come into another body and to be reincarnated into a second incarnation, since they do not give the soul another body until the first is buried.

Another thing – a third reason concerning the prohibition of leaving the corpse overnight: When the soul separates from the body and it wishes to go into that world – the supernal world – it is unable to enter that world until they give to her another body of light, and only afterwards is it able to enter. And you can know this from Elijah the Prophet. He had two bodies. One body was as he appeared below in this world to people – that in this body he was unable to go Above. And one body as he appeared in Above amongst the supernal holy angels. And therefore it is forbidden to let a corpse remain overnight [without burial,] since until the body is buried, it is impossible for the soul to enclothe herself in another spiritual body and to ascend upwards to her place.

And there is another fourth reason on the prohibition of leaving the corpse overnight: Since all the while that the body is not buried, it is a distressful for the soul, since a spirit of impurity is prepared and ready to rest upon it, and it is ready to make the body impure. And since this impure spirit is ready and prepared to contaminate the body, and therefore it is forbidden for a person to leave the body without burial for one night, since the spirit of impurity is present and reigns in the night, and it spreads itself and flies over the entire earth to find a body without a soul to make it impure, and therefore at night the body becomes more impure.

And upon this, the verse warns the Kohanim and says to them, “Each of you may not contaminate himself to a dead person amongst his people,” i.e. they may not contaminate themselves to a body without a living soul, since they are holy, therefore there shall not rest upon them a spirit of impurity and they shall not become impure through it.

And this means to say that since no body is created for an impure soul, therefore it [the impure spirit] searches for a body to enclothe itself in, and if it finds a body empty of a soul, it is able to enclothe itself in it. And this is the great distress for the body and the soul. And in particular at night, since then is the time of the rulership of the spirit of impurity. And this is the reason of the prohibition of the contamination of the Kohanim. For since the impure spirit rests upon the corpse, and the Chitzonim have a hold upon it, therefore the Kohanim need to be even more careful that they do not contaminate themselves, in order that they do not profane their supernal holiness that rests upon them.


Bold print: Original Zohar

Ordinary text: Matok Midvash

[Square brackets]: ELIYAHU ben PINCHAS

(Round brackets): Either the source being quoted e.g. Proverbs etc., or alternatively used to quote the kabbalistic language as discussed in Matok Midvash. The Matok Midvash formats the Nigleh side of things in an ordinary print, and the Nistar terminology in Rashi script. I’ve therefore put the Rashi script – the Nistar terminology in round brackets.

Sefiras HaOmer - Counting 49 days of the Omer - BY LEARNING!


"When putting on the Tallit Gadol - the large Tallit worn by men when praying - one does not need to cover one's head up until the mouth - this is as it is written in the laws of Tzizit in the Siddur. But we are accustomed to cover the eyes with the upper part of the Tallit Gadol.

"We are accustomed to study Tractate Sotah during the days of the Counting of the Omer - in addition to the regular fixed lessons (i.e. Chitas - Chumash, Tehillim and Tanya) - one page per day."


During the days of the Counting of the Omer we are required to work on our Middot (our emotional attributes) even more than usual.

As an aside to the Avodah (the service) of working on oneself, it is brought in today's HaYom Yom that one should also learn something additional. This of course, in addition to the regular order of ChiTaT (Chitas) - Chumash, Tehilim and Tanya portions for each day.

Ordinarily we learn the portion of the Chumash which is set for that particular day. There are a total of 7 Aliyot on Shabbos for each Torah portion. Since there are 7 days of the week, we learn the portion for each Aliyah on each day of the week corresponding to that Aliyah.

In addition we say the Tehillim that are set up as divided in accordance with the days of the month, thereby finishing the entire book of Tehillim each month.

In addition to this we say the portion of Tanya as set out and divided in any Tanya that can be purchased today. In this way, we complete all 5 sections of the Tanya each year, thus renewing and gaining even further knowledge as we repeat the learning the next year.

As the posting on Rambam indicates we should also spend some time each day learning Rambam - and if possible, by learning 3 chapters a day we complete the entire Rambam over the period of one year.

For the days between Pesach and Shavuos, however, one should add even further to ones learning. This can be done by learning through the tractate Sotah. The tractate deals with the laws of the woman suspected of having committed adultery by her jealous husband. She is to be taken to the Temple where she will be "forced" to drink from water(s) which had been mixed with the name of G-d which was written on parchment and then erased inside the waters. If she was found guilty, a variety of punishments would be inflicted upon the woman due to her having sinned, in addition to which she allowed the Name of G-d to be erased (something which is forbidden.) On the other hand, if she was innocent, she would be blessed with an abundance of good for having suffered the trauma and embarrassment of having been suspected of this act. If she had only given birth to female children, she would now give birth to male, and if they were of dark skin, they would now be of light skin. (There is much more to be said, but this is sufficient for blog purposes!)

One of the reasons we learn this particular tracate, is because it contains 49 pages! Exactly the same amount of days in the counting of the Omer! We thereby learn one page a day and complete the entire tractate over this important period.

Some may argue and say that in fact there are only 48 pages in the Gemorah, since in fact every tractate begins on page Beit (2)! Nevertheless the fact that a person begins on the first day by simply preparing himself for the learning which begins on the second day of the Omer is in itself considered as if one has already involved oneself in this learning. This in accordance with the concept brought down in the Sefer Yetzira (the Kabbalistic "Book of Formation" - attributed to Avraham our forefather and which contains some of the deepest secrets of creation. See the translation by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan for more information on this.) The Sefer Yetzira speaks of the "end being wedged in the beginning".

Indeed while we perceive life as being one long process, the truth is that the final moments of a person's life - and all his activities, are actually already embedded and wedged into the beginning of his life. Much like an architect prepares in his mind's eye the structure of a building, and through much work, the final structure comes into being built - so too in retrospect we can see from the latter what must have been within the former.

So too, when it comes to learning - while it may seem that the thoughts attributed to making a start have little to do with actual learning, in fact it is these thoughts that are the absolute roots for making the learning happen. In retrospect we can see how after our completion of learning, everything had begun with those "simple" thoughts!

What with learning Chumash (and Rashi), Tehillim, Tanya and Rambam, and now adding tractate Sotah to the schedule, we certainly have enough to keep us busy along the path of working on our emotional attributes - our Middot - and preparing ourselves and the world for the final redemption - may it be immediate!

Friday, 9 May 2008

Iyar 4 - Growing Peyos for Three Years

HaYom Yom for today:

"It is the custom of the Jewish people not to remove or cut the hair of a young child until the completion of three years.

"Cutting of the Hairs - Opsherenish - of a child is a great thing amongst the customs of the Jewish people. And its essence is in the education of the leaving behind of the corners of the head. And from the day of the cutting of the Peyos (the corners of the head - the sidelocks) the custom is to accustom the young child in the matters of wearing a Tallis Kotton (a four corned garment fitted with tassles on each of the corners as prescribed by Jewish law,) and in the saying of the morning blessings and in the saying of the after-blessing over bread, and in the recital of the reading of the Shema when going to bed at night."

Education begins when a child is born - and even before that (as one can see in the case of Samson whose mother was not even allowed to drink wine while pregnant so as not to bring her son to harm - due to his status of being a Nazir (one not allowed to drink wine.)

The age of 3 is said to already begin the age of "formal" education, where a child becomes highly sensitized to external behavior and manner. These commandments are all sure to make an impact on the child and affect him for his entire life.

We begin this process of education with a number of personal Torah commandments that the child will be affected by - in a physical manner.

The first concerns the cutting of the child's hair. Just like the fruit of a tree less than three years of age may not be eaten, so too the sanctity of a child resembles this holiness for "Man is a tree of the field." Just as there are 3 totally impure husks that are to be found in this world but a fourth which has the properties of both good and bad, so too is this child connected with these 3 impure forces for his first three years of life - but "free" in his fourth year. As the Kabbalistic writings speak of so often "G-d created everything with it's opposite." Therefore just as the child is filled with holiness, so too are there forces of unholiness wishing to suckle from the holy.

The Torah commands a man not to cut off the hairs on the side of the face, for there is a holiness to these too. We begin educating the child with these ideas. The hair may only be touched from the age of three - and even then, we cut only a part of it off to teach the child the beginnings of Mitzvah observance. The child will see himself in a mirror and be aware that already he is physically involved in the active fulfillment of Mitzvos. This will impact the child for life!

In addition to this special Mitzvah, the child is taught the importance of wearing a small Tallis - Tzitzit - another important Mitzvah for the child to be encompassed with at all times. He must be taught to say the morning blessings each day, to thank G-d for the goodness which he has been blessed - with clothing, being able to set himself upon the ground, for being granted strength to serve G-d etc. He is to be taught the importance of thanking G-d for the food which He has given him, for even though his parents may purchase the food for him, it is still G-d that provides not only the physical sustenance, but the means to purchase this as well. And one who eats and does not thank G-d is considered a thief - having stolen from G-d Almighty Himself!

He is to know the most basic tenant of Judaism - that G-d is One - and must recite the passages dealing with this at least at that time of day that he closes his eyes, entrusting his spirit back to G-d who has lent it to him in this world - and who will demand an accounting of the activities he has been occupied with throughout the day, and his entire life!

Education does not begin when one has already matured - perhaps at the age of 20 or later, when one has already learned a little about the world and now has the free choice to decide for himself what path is best.

Education begins with the parent teaching the child the important values of G-dliness, just when the child is ready to tackle the world and does not yet know what to do. Being able to speak and walk, the child is ready to deal with the external forces and environments that will influence him for the rest of his life.

What better way to teach than by giving this child a Jewish appearance already - by leaving his sidelocks?!

What better way than by giving him the four cornered garment made of 8 strings and 5 knots - a total of 13, together with the numerical value of the word "ציצית" - which is 600 - making 613 corresponding to the amount of commandments in the Torah - to remind him to observe these commandments at all times throughout his life?!

What better way than to teach the child the importance of thanking G-d each day with a variety of blessings for all the wonderful things he has been given - every single day of his life?!

What better way than teaching a child to thank G-d for the food he eats each day?

What better way than teaching a child to value his soul and to appreciate the absolute unity of G-d, by saying the Shema - the prayer affirming the oneness of G-d - each night before he entrusts his soul to G-d, to be refreshed and prepared for another day of service in the army of G-d, a duty he is entrusted with for the entire length of his life!

This is the Torah, it's beauty and it's gentleness. Her ways are ways of pleasantness and all her paths are peaceful"

Thursday, 8 May 2008

Learning from All - Even a Thief!

Many people are of the opinion that there are some who we should simply stay away from - that there is nothing we can learn from them. Perhaps - we might even say - they have it all wrong. Immediately our defense mechanisms kick into gear and we don't want to hear another thing about the person or subject concerned.

While it is true that there is *much* we must be very aware of and stay away from, there is also much we can learn from all. There is nobody in the world that does not have the ability to teach another something else - no matter who he is, what he does, or what he says. This doesn't mean we are to set out on learning the latest secular philosophies and latest ideas of the modern world - leaving the authentic Torah for those who wish to follow the authentic Jewish life-style. On the contrary, we need to focus our energies completely in Torah - and learn from all who can teach it in the correct way.

More so, of course, when the teacher of Torah is himself a true example of what Torah and Judaism are all about. All the more so should we be careful to first hear what this authentic teacher has to say before closing our ears and opening our mouths with false allegations and statements to nullify the possibility that such a person could actually be authentic.

Today's teaching of HaYom Yom - "Day by Day" - the first book compiled by the Lubavitcher Rebbe based upon teachings heard from his father-in-law - the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, speaks about learning from EVERYONE.

There is much we can learn from those we come into contact with on a regular basis. Not only this, but we can even learn from people we don't meet. Stereotypes and others, who even if we don't know personally, we know well what their "professions" are all about. If we can learn from these individuals, then all the more so we should be prepared to learn from those who are truly legitimate, kind, caring and giving people whose only messages to the world are about adding in goodness and kindness, and bringing into this world an era of complete peace - Shalom.

HaYom Yom for today: 3 Iyar

"We do not drink water before Havdalah"

"It is possible to use all character traits, even those traits which are not good, or are even bad according to their description and names, in one's service to G-d in accordance with Torah. Just like the Rebbi, the righteous Rabbi Zusia Meshulam of Anipoli of blessed memory learned many ways in the paths of service (to serving G-d) from a thief:
  1. The thief does things quietly without others knowing
  2. The thief places himself in a place of danger
  3. The thief considers the smallest thing like the biggest
  4. The thief toils with great effort
  5. Enthusiasm!
  6. The thief has confidence and is optimistic!
  7. If he didn't succeed the first time, he goes back (and tries again) many times!"
We can learn even from a thief... and it can actually make us grow in our Yiddishkeit!

Sunday, 4 May 2008

Learning Pirkei Avos - Ethics of our Fathers - Between Pesach and Shavuos

The period between Pesach (Passover) and Shavuot - the festival of receiving the Torah, is one filled with true growth! We work on ourselves by improving our character traits. There are 7 main emotive characteristics which we are required to improve upon, and within these there are 7 of each, making a total of 49 character traits. Through achieving this growth, we merit the 50th level - the 50th day of the counting of the Omer - none other than Shavuos itself - the receiving of the Torah.

Our working on ourselves makes us fitting vessels to be able to receive the Torah in purity. When we are balanced within ourselves, we are ready to accept the Torah and fulfill it's requirements. Naturally all Jews are required to fulfill the Mitzvos - the commandments - of the Torah, but when one is balanced in one's emotions, one can fulfill the Mitzvos in an even more beautiful manner. In short, what is necessary is taking powerful lights of giving, and balance them with vessels that can receive them. Whereas emotions of anger, jealousy and the like can overwhelm one, literally destroying one's own self, when one has learned how to use one's emotions correctly, one can give of oneself in the correct amounts.

BALANCE IS THE KEY! One has to strive to keep oneself focused on what needs to be done, and do so in the correct way without overwhelming oneself, others or G-d Almighty in the process!

As we are working on ourselves, and looking for the best guidance to follow, it is fitting and has become the custom to study the section of Oral Law known as Pirkei Avos - Ethics of our Fathers during this period of time.

The Torah says that Derech Eretz Kadmah LeTorah - good behavior precedes Torah. Once one's foundations for life are set, one can easily build without causing the entire structure to crumble. Much like a house is built by first setting up solid foundations that go deep into the ground, so too when it comes to Torah growth, one needs to set up proper foundations so that the building can rest upon the ground with strength and power - without being blown away by the wind.

There are three main areas we need to work on:
  1. Our relationship with ourselves
  2. Our relationship with others
  3. Our relationship with G-d Himself
Probably the best text as the most basic foundation for all these things, is the Ethics of the Fathers. Just six chapters of learning, and one can become an expert in knowing how to balance oneself with oneself, with others and with G-d Himself.

The custom has become to learn one chapter of these ethics each week between Pesach and Shavuos. Since there are 7 weeks, one completes the entire tractate during this period. There are those, however, who feel that the work required is ongoing - and certainly a great preparation for the upcoming festivals thereafter - namely Rosh Hashanah - the beginning of the new Jewish year, and Yom Kippur and Sukkot. Therefore, there are many that have the custom to continue to learn one chapter each week (after the Mincha prayers of Shabbat afternoon) - during this period of time, completing the learning of Pirkei Avos 3 times by the time Rosh Hashana comes around.

We have plenty of learning to keep us going on a regular basis - see other important learning projects under "Learning One on One" in this blog. And now, we have the good fortune to focus some of our learning on practical ethical and good behavior traits, making us fitting to receive the Torah in purity and prepare well in advance for the period of repentance encountered shortly thereafter.


It seems though that everyone is an expert when it comes to good ethics. In fact, we all seem to know what's right! Besides, there really are so many good books available, what could these 6 chapters teach us that we don't already know?! More than this, are they really G-d given - or are they perhaps simply good steps to take, as understood by the Rabbis of these teachings?

Perhaps the very first Mishna with brief commentary tells it!

"Moses received the Torah from Mount Sinai, and he transfered it to Joshua. Joshua transfered it to the elders, the elders to the prophets, and the prophets transfered it to the Men of the Great Assembly. They said three things, "Be deliberate in judgement; and raise up many students; and make a fence for the Torah."

The great commentator Rabbi Ovadiah MiBartenuro says, "...and the nations of the world also wrote books according to the fabrications of their hearts in the ways of ethics, how a person should behave with his friend. THEREFORE THE TEACHER OF THE MISHNA BEGAN WITH THIS - Moses received the Torah from Sinai. This teaches you that the attributes and the ethics in this tractate were not fabricated by the sages of the Mishna, but rather, EVEN THESE were said at Sinai!"

Even basic ethics must be learned from the Torah. There is no such thing as learning good behavior from the books outside of Torah. When it comes to proper behavior, we need to learn it directly from the Torah itself. We may think we know what is good behavior - and what it means to "be a good person." But if we are not following the teachings as included in Pirkei Avos, we are following the fabrications made through the hearts of men of just flesh and blood.

Set aside some time to learn these teachings. They seem to be simple, and barely the real meat of Torah, yet in fact, these are the bases for good and decent behavior. Foundations for being able to fulfill the rest of the Torah in purity and correctness, with goodness and kindness.


Related Posts with Thumbnails