Friday, December 28, 2007


Erev shabbos kodesh Parshas Shemos 5766

D’ei Chochmah L’Nafshechah

“let your soul know wisdom”

Parshas Shemos: Abridged

From the discourses of our Rabbi and teacher, The gaon and tzaddik, rav Yitzchak meir Morgenstern, shlit”a

Translated and adapted by Rav Micha chaim Golshevsky

* Not for General Circulation *

Published by the Yam Hachochmah institute

Under the auspices of “yeshivas toras chochom” for the study of the revealed and hidden Torah

4 ohalei yosef st., JerusaleM

An Abridged Version of This Week’s Shiur

The Avodah of the Twelve Tribes

"ואלה שמות בני ישראל הבאים מצרימה"—“These are the names of the children of Israel who came to (or ‘come to’) Egypt.”[1] Just as all twelve tribes descended to Egypt before they could draw close to Hashem, so too must every single Jew also first pass through a personal Mitzrayim, along with successive stages of growth that parallel the avodah of each of the twelve tribes.

First is the avodah of Reuven (reiyah), the pleasure of “seeing” the light of the “countenance” of the King. Subsequently, one comes to the aspect of Shimon—when one’s begins to get a “name” (shem / shemuah) for people start to notice that one’s efforts to draw nearer to Hashem are bearing fruit. Levi symbolizes one’s connecting (leviyah, connection or escort) to the tzaddikim and following in their ways. One then comes to the path of Yehudah, grateful acknowledgement, hoda’ah and hodayah, of Hashem even when things are difficult. Afterward, one grasps the level of Yissachar, a deep appreciation of the value of every good deed and every word of Torah or prayer (“yesh sachar”—there is a reward).[2] One then comes to the level of the tribe of Zevulun who did business to support Torah scholars, for he truly appreciates the value of spirituality even when attained at the hand of another. Next, one attains the level of Binyamin (the “Ben Oni”—the one who passes through trouble to eventually come closer to Hashem, and the “Ben Yemin”—the son of the right-hand side), yearning for Hashem and true heartfelt prayer. Dan (din) represents the constant practice of judging oneself and one’s actions, to prune away any behavior not in keeping with Hashem’s will. Naftali is the path of connecting to the Creator, especially through prayer. The name Naftali (petil) is rooted in the word for a multi-stranded thread that wraps in upon itself, like the tefillin with which a Jew “binds” himself in prayer (tefillah) to Hashem.[3] The next grade of connection is the lovingkindness of Gad (gimmel and dalet are an acronym of the phrase “gomel dalim”—“He who gives to the destitute”). One then attains the level of Asher, whose “bread is fat,”[4] shmeinah, for he is well-filled with the study of Mishnah. (The Chid”a cites a Midrash which states that Asher son of Yaakov waits at the entrance to Gehinom and culls out all the condemned who learned Mishnah.[5])

And what of Yosef? Although people “in Egypt” always feel completely broken and can’t seem to find the proper path to the Creator, even those who have found a niche in serving Hashem also traverse the straights in their own way. Each attainment brings with it the danger of falling into arrogance, and this expresses itself by the person acting superior to his friend. This condition is an extension of the loss of Yosef. When a person reaches a spiritual goal and stops developing (mosif) because he feels complacent and self-satisfied, this parallels the verse: “And Yosef and that entire generation died.”[6]

The Greatness of Moshe Rabbeinu

The truth is that Dasan and Aviram were not simple people as many mistakenly believe. It was in their capacity of judges that they approached Moshe and exclaimed, "מי שמך לאיש"—“Who made you chief (literally, ‘the man’) over us?” However, Moshe’s level was very much above theirs since he felt the pain of every single Jew, especially those who were most caught in the depths of Mitzrayim. This is indicated by the verse, “And she saw that he was good.”[7] Moshe was good precisely because he didn’t feel he was above anyone else despite his towering spiritual achievements.

We can see Moshe’s great level from the verse, “And he looked around in all directions and saw that there was no ish, no man.”[8] The word Ish, man, refers to a person who is not completely G-dly. This is a reference to tzaddikim who serve Hashem on the level of the three lower worlds of Asiyah, Yetzirah, and Beriyah. The first is the world of Action, which implies serving Hashem because one realizes this is one’s duty. This first level is symbolized by the name Adon-i, literally “my Master,” since one is acting solely because he knows that Hashem is the Master of the world, and it is expressed in the first letter of Ish (איש). A tzaddik who has reached the world of Yetzirah, Formation, serves Hashem with his natural characteristics such as love and awed reverence. This second world is alluded to by the Name YHVH, and the yud of the word ish alludes to this Name. The third world is that of Beriyah, Creation, which is attained by a tzaddik who has who has reached the level of love and fear on the level of intellectual contemplation. It is alluded to by the name Shakai (ש-די), which is a contraction of the phrase, “He who said to His universe, Enough!” This Name is alluded to in the final shin of the word “ish.”

In contrast, Moshe reached a higher level—the level of the world of Atzilus. He looked "כה וכה"—“This way and that.” The word כה has a numerical value of 25 (chaf = 20, hei = 5) and it refers to the twenty-five letters of each of the prime statements of the Shema: "שמע ישראל ה' אלוקינו ה' אחד" and "ברוך שם כבוד מלכותו לעולם ועד". [Note: The second statement is actually made up of twenty-four letters. If you add one for entire statement as the kollel, however, you come to the second “set” of twenty-five.] So Moshe attained the level of Shema united with Boruch Shem, and he “saw no man.” He saw no other man who had transcended the level of “Ish,” of the lower three worlds by ascending to Atzilus. This unification expresses the yichud of Atzilus, which was the level of Moshe. Moshe Rabbeinu never was self-aggrandizing. On the contrary, he was the paradigm of holy humility; he always felt that every spiritual achievement was a gift from Hashem. Even more, he felt that if another person had been given his gifts, he would surely have gone further.[9]

The ultimate tikkun is for every Jew to be deeply connected to his fellow Jew. This is the way that Moshe Rabeinu felt, and it is this humility that enables a person to do as he should and truly focus on Hashem’s unity, the single axis that unifies the entire universe. This is the only avodah that has genuine importance. Without it, all the other avodos cause a person to be arrogant. And anyone who feels greater than another is still in Egypt, regardless of whatever spiritual attainments he may have amassed. Moshe Rabbeinu’s aspect was primarily bitul, self-nullification, for his soul was drawn from the all-pervasive “waters” of limitless G-d consciousness. This is experiences as bitul in the midst of a multitude of distracting thoughts.

Moshe revealed in the world the path of “Zeir Anpin gazing in the face of Arich Anpin.” [Note: Zeir Anpin represents the lower middos or emotions that generally dictate a person’s actions. When a person’s actions are instead guided by the joy he experiences in transforming his challenging thoughts into connection with Hashem, the aspect of Arich Anpin, he is said to cause “Zeir Anpin to gaze into the face of Arich Anpin.” This was the avodah of Moshe Rabbeinu.] When a person reaches this towering level of continuously renewing his connection with Hashem, his face shines with a supernal light. This is the wisdom of man that “illuminates his countenance,” it comes to one who truly has internalized that Hashem never really hides His Face. He merely provides us with new opportunities to draw closer to Him on an even deeper level.

This revelation of Moshe is an aspect of, “And Moshe petitioned Hashem…”[10] He petitioned Hashem to reveal this path through which we will ultimately be redeemed. Although Hashem didn’t allow this revelation of a complete connection to the depths of the light of Torah, Moshe Rabbeinu’s prayers did have a very powerful effect and they do enable us to latch on to the path of Moshe / Moshiach / Atzilus that transcends the paths of other tzaddikim who revealed the aspect of the lower three worlds. It is only in the merit of his prayers that the deepest secrets of Torah may be revealed during the period preceding and during the arrival of Moshiach.

While the tzaddikim who were, and are, an aspect of the three lower worlds (as expressed in the word Ish as explained above) could not reveal the light to help even the furthest person out of the spiritual muck of the deepest pits of despair, Moshe and other tzaddikim who followed the path of Atzilus could, and can. Precisely because Moshe’s avodah is with complete connection and no self-aggrandizement, it is truly pure and it can uplift anyone from wherever he may have fallen. It was Moshe who took us out of Egypt, and it is the path of Moshe and in his merit that we are released from our spiritual Meitzarim, our own personal straights of Egypt. In order to merit this holy vision, the capacity to “be shown to know that Hashem is G-d,”[11] one must be connected to the true tzaddikim of the generation who are an aspect of Moshe. This can be attained by learning their works since these writings can bring a person to experience true dveikus and provide the broadened perspective needed to transform challenges into opportunities.

The entire exile is only an illusion. We ask Hashem to look kindly on our difficulties and help us open our eyes. Hashem placed the rainbow in the clouds, and clouds are an aspect of occluded vision, or spiritual barriers.[12] Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai told his son Elazar, “When we merit to see the rainbow shining in its brilliant colors, anticipate the arrival of Moshiach.”[13] May we be helped to see the “rainbow in the clouds,” the light that comes after traversing spiritual barriers, and merit to draw down the complete rectification of Moshe / Atzilus by connecting to tzaddikim and learning their works. Then we will be privileged to see Hashem’s long-awaited return to Tzion, speedily in our days. Amen!

Translated and Adapted by Rav Micha Golshevsky.

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[1] Shemos 1:1

[2] See Yirmiyahu 31:15 for this allusion.

[3] Bereishis 30:8

[4] Ibid., 49:20

[5] Chagigah 27a

[6] Shemos 1:6

[7] Ibid., 2:2; See Sha’ar HaKavanos, Drush HaPesach

[8] Shemos 2:12

[9] See Shemos 4:13, Rashi and Ramban there.

[10] Devarim 3:23

[11] Ibid., 4:35

[12] Bereishis 9:13; Likutei Moharan II:67

[13] Tikunei Zohar 78a

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Spirit of the Law--Chanukah part 2

This halachah follows the format of the Ben Ish Chai, Parshas Vayeishev. Enjoy!

1. On the first night of Chanukah, immediately before lighting the menorah, we recite three blessings: “L’hadlik ner Chanukah—To light the Chanukah candle,” “She’asah nissim—He who did miracles,” and “Shehechiyanu—Who gave us life.”

First, we need to explain the word “berachah.” A berachah draws down blessing upon us; the word derives from the same root as the bereichah, which means a natural pool that flows with an abundance of pure water.[1] Our blessings reach the highest spheres and draw down abundant spiritual and physical blessings. The very word Baruch is an acrostic of beis for Binah, reish for Chochmah (as in the verse reishis chochmah—the head, or beginning, of wisdom), vav for Da’as (the vav means a connecting hook, and da’as always implies integrated understanding), and chaf for Kesser.

In reference to the first blessing, those who follow Nusach Ashkenaz say, “L’hadlik ner shel Chanukah,” with the addition of the preposition “shel—of.” This addition is not a problem since each person can definitely follow his custom without sacrificing the sacred intentions of the blessings.[2]

Rav Nosson writes that the light of Chanukah represents the pride that Hashem takes in every single Jew. Rebbe Nachman said that Hashem takes pride in every Jew no matter his or her level as long as that person takes pride in being a Jew. This is the light of Chanukah because tzaddikim arouse Hashem’s pride in us until this light is revealed for all to see. We see it in the tremendous providence the Jewish people experience through the miracles that secured the survival of the Jewish people throughout the ages.

The revelation of providence then gives rise to azus d’kedushah, or “holy chutzpah”—one of the main pathways to courage and joy even when things are difficult. Azus d’kedushah means I have the nerve to do what I know deep down is right even my circumstances would seem to impede me altogether. One needs to have a lot of azus, of chutzpah, to continue in the face of real adversity, because unless I really know and feel how right my goal is, human nature will instead drive me to take the easier way out and say, “Why should I bother?”

This is why it is preferable to light the Chanukah candles at night, when darkness reigns. Lighting the candles outside the house represents lighting when I feel completely distant from Hashem and vulnerable, since the public domain is an unprotected area that spiritually is the realm of the forces of negativity. The aspect of “publicizing the miracle” is brought even more into focus when lighting outside, since I show by my very actions that I am willing to do what is right even if I have to suffer the censure of hostile neighbors, and even though I am “in the dark” and without security and protection. Despite all this, I do what is right because I am a Jew who takes pride in my Jewishness, just as Hashem takes pride in me.[3]

This is the meaning of the first blessing: “…Who sanctified us with His commandments”—we take pride in the fact that Hashem chose to grant us the commandments through which we are consecrated to Him—“…and commanded us to light the Chanukah light.” We light the candles of Hashem’s pride in us by taking pride in being His chosen nation. In the merit of this pride that we take in being Jewish, Hashem’s providence is revealed and we are sent hidden and revealed miracles that sustain us through our exile.

This brings us to the second blessing: “Who did miracles for our forefathers in those days, in this time.” We feel uplifted by all that Hashem has done for us “in those days,” and it arouses us to act with true Jewish pride “in this time.”

This concept carries over to the third blessing, of Shehechiyanu—“Who gave us life…” Through the Jewish pride that reveals Hashem’s pride in us, we draw down miraculous providence. This is the source of our life in exile. We have endured so much persecution that our very survival is only in the merit of hidden and open miracles. When we contemplate this truth, we are astounded and filled with gratitude.

Even today, considering the number and power of our enemies, the survival of the Jews is a complete miracle. Nowadays, the true enemy of Judaism’s survival is the tidal wave of assimilation, immorality, and the valorization of character defects that are part and parcel of popular culture. This is especially true of Jews who were not raised in a religious environment, but it is true of all our people. Everyone has to endure formidable tests of character and is hard-pressed to be a spiritual person, to adhere to Hashem’s mitzvos, and to serve Hashem with joy. The fact that we are here studying Torah in the twentieth century is in and of itself a great miracle.

Rav Nosson explains that the three elements in the blessing “Shehechiyanu” relate to person, place, and time. There is always a barrier preventing us as individuals from connecting to Hashem and surviving physically and/or spiritually (this is “person”) because of one’s spiritual or physical “place” (the challenges presented by one’s environment), and “time” (the temptation of procrastination). All of these limitations are overcome by grabbing hold of the opportunity to perform any mitzvah, especially those mitzvos that only apply infrequently.[4]

The more holy chutzpah that we have, the more pride we show in being Jewish and the more we drawn down Hashem’s providence on us. The Chashmonaim were willing to die for the sake of Hashem’s Name. They did not expect to live. They were a handful who stood against a world-class army and were willing to die for their Judaism. This demonstrated their true Jewish pride, and it was the ultimate act of holy chutzpah that resulted in the miracle of Chanukah. The same is true for every generation. The more Jewish pride that results in holy chutzpah and the self-sacrifice it engenders, the more miracles we draw down.

After the communists came to power in Russia and it became clear that religious persecution was their goal, the Chofetz Chaim said, “When it first started, the Jewish community should have fought with a willingness to die if need be. They would have won out just as the Chashmonaim did so many years ago.” The more “l’hadlik” there is, the more “she’asa nissim,” in person, place and time. Chanukah enables us to reconnect to pride in our Jewishness and tap in to true holy chutzpah. The more we do this, the more miracles we will be privileged to witness.

[1] Rav Chaim of Volozhin, Nefesh HaChayim
[2] This is the opinion of the Arizal in Sha’ar Hakavanos, as brought in the beginning of the third section of Mishnas Chassidim and in many Siddurim.
[3] Based on Likutei Halachos, Birkas Hamazon 4:9.
[4] Based on Birkas Harei’ach 4:5.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Kabbalah and Chassidus on the Parsha

If you are looking for wonderfully deep and inspiring lessons on the weekly parsha, check out Rav Yitzchak Meir Morgenstern's shiurim.
"Once you've tasted that excellent Hungarian wine, you can never be fooled with inferior stuff." (Chayei Moharan #260)

Chabad in Goa, India

Rav Guy Efraim, the Chabad shaliach in Goa, sent us a link to an online Chabad newsmagazine that featured the hachnasas sefer Torah they just celebrated. This was our favorite photo.

This is where the shaliach toivels every day... Now that's what we call mesirus nefesh!

Spirit of the Law--Chanukah part 1

The Spirit of the Law

Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, Laws of Chanukah 139:1-4

1) “…One should give an abundance of charity on Chanukah because these days are propitious for rectifying blemishes on one’s soul through charity, especially if one gives to poor people who learn Torah.”

Through giving charity, it is possible for a person to break his unhealthy desire for money. This avariciousness, which has the power when unchecked to overwhelm a person completely, is actually symbolized by the ancient Greeks. We can see this alluded to in the verse, “Tavati b’yavein metzulah”—“I have sunk into a deep mire.”[1] The word yavein (the mire of the lust for money) can also be read Yavan (Greece).[2] Although this world is full of many beautiful things, as soon as a person places a coin or his hand in front of his eye, he isn’t able to see anything at all. Similarly, if a person’s entire existence is focused on pursuing money or ego-driven pleasure, he cannot see the light of spirituality and holiness.[3]

In addition, giving charity draws down the light of Providence upon the giver, and it happens middah k’neged middah—measure for measure. The giver demonstrates his trust in Hashem to provide for his needs despite the fact that he is sharing some of his material wealth. This reliance on Providence draws the light of Providence down upon the giver. This is one way to understand the significance of the light of the menorah—it represents the light of Providence. Especially when things are dark and we cannot fathom the ways of Hashem, the illumination of Providence lights up the darkness. The miracle of the menorah fills us with the vision that especially when things are difficult, during the depth of a spiritual winter, Hashem is always right here with each and every one of us.[4]

2) “We do not fast on Chanukah…”

The Mekor Chaim, zt”l, explains that the main purpose in fasting is to overcome one’s base physical nature, since this is the source of all evil. On Chanukah, however, the negative within us is subdued when we are open to receive the spiritual illumination that descends. Since the negativity inside of us has already been mitigated, there is no point in fasting. If, on the other hand, a person is not open to the illumination of Chanukah, then fasting is a waste of time in any case. As Rebbe Nachman, zt”l, explains, such fasting could be compared to carefully scrubbing a torn sack. Although it may get clean, the holes will remain and prevent its proper use.[5] If one wishes to achieve holiness during Chanukah, he will accomplish far more by focusing on the supernal influx that flows down during those precious days. Reb Nosson, zt”l, writes that the days of Chanukah (and Purim) were established to strengthen those who are so spiritually ill that they lack the energy to accomplish anything at all. Similarly, during the long winter of our exile we sometimes feel that we are making no progress spiritually. Through the light of Chanukah, Hashem shines into each of us individually to help us understand that we should not give up trying because everything we do is precious in the eyes of the Creator. This is one reason why the custom among Ashkenazim is for everyone to light their own menorahs—because the light shines into us all. At the root of the concept, this certainly includes women and girls. The Chasam Sofer zt”l, explains why it is that we do not find that in our time women and girls light for themselves. When the sages originally made the enactment to light, it included women. Since the original mitzvah was to light outside, however, no woman tried to do this mitzvah l’mehadrin; it was not considered befitting honor of a woman to go out in the early evening. Even in our time when most people light indoors, the custom has remained the same.[6] The Maharshal and the Elya Rabba explain the reason differently. Since most get married and the original enactment was for a man and his wife to light one candle, there is no reason for a girl under the age of bas mitzvah to light, since eventually she will not need to light. It was never customary for girls to light for themselves between the age of bas mitzvah and marriage, since they tended to marry young in any case. Even though in our times many women marry later than they used to, the custom hasn’t changed.[7]

3) “Although it is permitted to perform work on Chanukah, the custom is that women do no work while the candles are lit (that is, the minimum obligation of time—half an hour)… The reason why women in particular are strict about this is because of the decrees of the Greeks specifically about women… Also, the miracle of redemption happened through a woman…”

The Mekor Chaim, zt”l, explains why the Greeks enacted decrees specifically against women, and why the miracle of redemption happened specifically through a woman.

We find in the Zohar Hakadosh that the kingship of Antiochus represents the concept of orlah, the foreskin, which is cut away during circumcision. The orlah acts as a filter that prevents a man from grasping holiness. For this reason, a Jewish man who maintains his foreskin and does not submit to circumcision is liable to the Divine punishment of kares. His orlah keeps him powerfully tied to worldly pleasure that lacks a connection to the Source.[8]

This is why the Greeks forbade circumcision, the observance of Shabbos, and the declaration of the new month. These three mitzvos are diametrically opposed to the concept of orlah. Shabbos is the opposite of orlah because on Shabbos we delight in worldly pleasures for the sake of heaven. The truth is that there is no mitzvah to overeat on Shabbos, as the Shelah Hakadosh writes. However, the Arizal explains that even if a person overindulges on Shabbos, the food is still elevated to the Source. Rosh Chodesh is also the opposite of orlah since it is a time of arousal to the spiritual renewal found in sincere repentance. This is the opposite of the orlah’s power to blind a person from the holiness that is to be discovered within the physical world. And circumcision itself is, of course, the complete eradication of the orlah.

The Jewish woman represents the Shechinah, the Divine presence, which is the opposite of the orlah and its deadening effect on one’s spiritual existence. This is why it is only through marriage that a man can come to true completion. The orlah is a blemish that distances one from completion. This is why the Greeks made decrees to destroy the sanctity of Jewish marriage (the removal of the possibility of privacy), and this is also why the miracle was specifically through a woman. Yehudis subdued those who represent the klippah of orlah just as marriage to a G-d-fearing woman subdues this force of negativity within a man. Jewish marriage is how one comes to overcome the seemingly grossly material reality that we live in by discovering the true spiritual identity of all that is material. Reb Nosson explains further that as long as a Jewish man is connected spiritually through marriage to a Jewish woman, it is clear that he will not fall completely![9]

[1] Tehillim 69:3

[2] Likutei Halachos, Hilchos Aveidah U’metziah 3:8

[3] Likutei Moharan I:133

[4] Likutei Halachos, Hilchos Shluchim 3

[5] Likutei Moharan I:17

[6] Chiddushei Shabbos 21b

[7] Maharshal 85; Elya Rabba 671:2, end of subsection 3.

[8] Mekor Chaim 670:1

[9] Likutei Halachos, Hilchos Bechor Beheimah Tehorah 4:26