Thursday, December 24, 2015

Parshas Vayechi, Komarna, Rav Tzaddok and Zohar

Parsha shiur Komarna: The power of Hope; The power of a minyan Rav Tzaddok: The essence of each tribe Zohar and Chessed L'Avraham: Vayechi Yaakov

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Spirit of the Law, Kitzur Shulchan Aruch I: 5 Video Shiur

Spirit of the Law: Kitzur Shulchan Aruch I:5: Chatzos, a time of deep connection and bliss with Hashem; One hour after Chatzos is like several during the day; When to stay in bed; Mishnah fixes our Nesahama, soul; Is it better to be up Chatzos or Vatikin.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Writeup Spirit of the Law Chanukah Part II, KItzur 6-10

(Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 139:6) “The custom in our country is to do as the ‘mehadrin l’mehadrin’—in the most scrupulous way. Everyone lights. On the first night, we light one candle, and on the second night tw,o and we add each night until we have all lit eight candles.”
Reb Nosson of Breslov writes in his Likutei Halachos that the flame of the Chanukah candles represent the fire of yiras shomayim—fear of heaven. Although fear normally diminishes one’s life, the fear of Hashem is different. As the verse says: “The fear of G-d adds to one’s days.” (Mishlei 10:27) This echoes the Vilna Gaon’s commentary on the verse. For this reason, if one’s fear of Hashem leads to worry and despair, it is a clear sign that this is not true fear of G-d. True yiras Hashem is called yirah l’chaim—“awe that enhances one’s life and spiritual vitality.”
This means that it brings one to feel joy. We can obtain this type by focusing on the good and not the bad. If one learns the importance of not talking slander, he can worry about it all day or he can thank Hashem for each time he didn’t speak slander and realize that the main purpose for the warnings against the habit is to encourage us to refrain. This is by our realizing that if doing it is so bad, refraining from it is that much more important and worthy of joy.
We light a new candle every day to teach that we must increase our devotion and longing every day. This is true yirah l’chaim. Through this, one is full of life and vitality. “The fear of G-d adds to one’s days!”

(Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 139:7) “The mitzvah of Chanukah is to light the menorah in the doorway closest to the public domain in order to publicize the miracle. This was the custom during the time of the sages. Nowadays, since we dwell among the non-Jews, we light inside. One should light at their window if they have one.” [In Israel, the custom of most is to light outside].
This halachah can be understood in the light of the Likutei Halachos. The Greeks and Hellenists tried to overcome us with tremendous brazenness. The Chashmonaim had to have even more chutzpah to challenge the strongest army of ancient times with a miniscule fraction of their strength. This is always how it is. The inner and outer forces of evil try to overcome the good with incredible brazenness and we need even stronger chutzpah to overcome them. This is what the miracle of the Chanukah lights represent.
And this is why it is best to light it in the most visible place available. We are not ashamed before anyone. Unless there is an actual danger, we should light in the most publicly visible manner. Rebbe Nachman, zt”l, writes that one achieves holy chutzpah through happiness. Happiness is not only inside. If one is truly happy, it will show on the outside. Someone who seems gloomy really is in a bad frame of mind—the inner and outer states are connected. Our happiness and joy should overflow into the lives of our families, friends, and everyone with whom we come into contact. This is also something we learn from placing the Chanukah lights in the most noticeable place. The light of our holy joy which enables us to have true chutzpah when it comes to opposing our evil inclination should uplift everyone who come into contact with us!

(Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 139:8) “It is a mitzvah to place the lights above three tefachim and below ten. If one placed them above ten tefachim, he nevertheless fulfills his obligation.”
Reb Nosson writes in his Likutei Halachos that Chanukah draws down an illumination from the future times of Moshiach every year to encourage even the most distant Jew. This light is to be discovered in the teachings of the tzaddikim, and by learning their works, even the most distant Jew is encouraged to trust in Hashem, start fresh, and keep trying until he merits true holiness and joy. This explains why it is a mitzvah to arrange his lights at a height between three and ten tefachim.
The truth is that anyone who wishes can draw incredible encouragement from the miracle of Chanukah itself. At the time of the miracle, we were not in the healthiest spiritual condition as a people. Even so, Hashem delivered us from our enemies and made the menorah burn for eight days to demonstrate that, no matter what our spiritual state may be, if we only wish to we can begin again and achieve closeness with Hashem. Since the candles represent Hashem helping even those who are spiritually weak, they should be set up below ten tefachim. Our Rabbis teach that the Shechinah never descended to the final ten tefachim of airspace above the earth. Those ten tefachim represent all of the places to which people fall, where they feel exiled from the nourishing and illuminating influence of the Divine presence. When the candles are lit there, those “places” receive an infusion of Hashem’s light.
Even so, the lights must be at least three tefachim off the ground. This symbolizes a fresh start. This represents a commitment to not “lying down” and giving up completely. At the very least, one must have the minimal “three tefachim” of motivation to make a fresh start. When we do what we can, Hashem draws the light of Chanukah upon us and we bask in His warmth.
(Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 139:9) “One should separate the candles so that they not melt down from their own heat. If one filled a bowl with oil and placed wicks in it, and if he covered it with a vessel, each wick counts like one candle. If one did not cover it with a vessel, it cannot count as even a single candle since this will surely become a conflagration.”
The Zohar Hakadosh writes that a raging fire represents evil. This is because one who does evil often cannot contend with his evil urge, which is similar to a blazing fire. This is why we cannot use a hearth fire or the like for Chanukah. Rebbe Nachman, zt”l, taught that there are two types of light. One is called me’orei eish, which means “illuminating bodies of fire,” or the raging fire associated with evil. The other is called me’orei ohr, or “illuminating bodies of light”—a  balanced and holy illumination. We must yearn to achieve the holy and reject the unholy. All our troubles are caused by our lack of true understanding. We can achieve understanding through having a connection to someone who does possess true understanding. This is why having a connection to someone without fear of heaven is so detrimental—he is a detour from arriving at true understanding!
The Gemara writes that for one with da’as or holy awareness, it is as though the Beis Hamikdash has already been rebuilt. One who has the true balance of holy illumination acts in a deliberate and considered way. Even if he makes a mistake, he will immediately repent and start again. He knows that we are here for a limited time only and that we have a purpose. One who lacks this balanced perspective is always falling and rarely repents; he is far from embarking on the path to change.
For this same reason we may not place the candles too close together. If they melt down in a blaze we have not discharged our obligation. If our Chanukah lights converge into me’orei eish—by becoming a conflagration—they represent the unholy burning for materialism or honor without any higher goal. We light individual candles to represent the balanced illumination of a light which does not damage but illuminates—the light of true understanding. (Based on Mekor Chaim and Likutey Halachos) 

(Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 139:10) “One lights the menorah at nightfall and not later.”
Reb Nosson of Breslov writes in his Likutei Halachos that the time when the me’orei eish (see Spirit of the Law: Chanukah #9) dominate is the night. This is because the night represents lack of clarity and confusion. How we feel and behave at times of uncertainly tell us a lot about where we are really holding. One who is truly internalizing and deepening his connection to Hashem will find that what used to be an insurmountable test will stop being a challenge. This is a sure sign that we are increasing our connection to holy illumination and moving away from unholiness. This is a balance; the more understanding we have, the more we slowly are distanced from unholy thoughts and deeds. Since the me’orei eish are associated with “dark times,” we do not light before the sun sets. (This is only if we have a choice. On erev Shabbos we light early since we have no choice, but we must place enough oil in the vessel to last until half an hour after dark. This is symbolic of the fact that the great descending light of erev Shabbos affords us an opportunity to “light the darkness” ahead of time and perform the proper rectification for the night that is to come.)

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Write up of Spirit of the Law: Chanukah part I

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]
All oils may be used for the Chanukah lights. However, olive oil is the preferred way to do this mitzvah since that is the oil with which the miracle occurred in the Beis Hamikdash.”
What is the significance of the miracle occurring through olive oil? Reb Nosson of Breslov writes in his Likutei Halachos that just as oil is the “splendor” of the olive—the highest expression of its innate qualities—so too are the Jewish people the splendor of creation. Hashem takes pleasure in the Jewish people above all His works. The Greeks felt that they were the chosen people. For this reason, they wanted to obscure our special status as the Am Hanivchar by polluting us spiritually. Through the intervention of the righteous Matisyahu and his followers who are similar to the flask of oil which remained protected from being polluted by the evil influences of the Greeks, the splendor which Hashem takes from every Jew was revealed and the Greeks were defeated. This is one way to understand why the miracle occurred specifically with the oil. The “small flask” of those who are faithful to Torah and mitzvos will miraculously endure forever as the chosen people.
Although Hashem takes pride, so to speak, in the Jewish people no matter what, generally this pride only lasts as long as we are at least connected to those who remain unpolluted with false beliefs. Such a connection prevents us from falling away from Torah-true beliefs entirely. One who is exposed to false beliefs and won over to them, however, forfeits his status as a part of the chosen people. The reason for this that Hashem takes pride in each and every Jew only as long as he or she feels exalted by being Jewish. This is not some sort of ethnic or cultural pride. One must be proud to be a member of the chosen nation, gifted by G-d with a unique mission, responsibility, and the means to accomplish it. One who doesn't feel this pride is very disconnected from the essence of the Jewish people. As we say in the blessings of the Torah: “He who has chosen us from among all the nations...” Let us take pride in our Jewish identity so that Hashem will take pride in us!

Spirit of the Law: Chanukah #5

(Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, Hilchos Chanukah 139:5)
“If one lights in an earthen vessel, it becomes ‘old’ [after a single use]. Since it is blackened and disgusting, it may not be used for another night. Therefore, one must have a menorah of metal [since less porous substances like glass or metal can be cleaned if they get full of soot and oil].”
The Shulchan Aruch explains that one has two options if an earthen vessel is the only one available. One can either use a new one each day of Chanukah, or put the blackened vessel into the oven and reconstitute it into a new vessel through the agency of high heat which will burn away the accumulated filth.
The Mekor Chaim, zt”l, defines a vessel as an object that is designed to hold something else. Our limbs are the vessels that hold the nefesh, our souls. An earthen vessel represents a limb that is imperfect. Pottery cannot be koshered and it porosity makes it absorb more of what cooks in it than other vessels. This represents the part of a person that still requires a lot of refinement. This might be the tongue of the slanderer, the heart of the cruel person, or the hand of the one who strikes his friend. This can also refer to a particular organ that serves as the “abode” of a negative character trait.
For example, anger is said to be “seated” in the liver and depression in the spleen. The present halachah regarding the use of an earthen vessel parallels the situation of a person who tries to correct a fault by paying attention to how damaging the trait is and praying for help to uproot it. We “illuminate” the limb by working on the particular problem which is aroused by that limb or which that limb enables. However, this only works for a while—which parallels the fact that the earthen vessel can only be used once. After a while, this form of spiritual work tends to get stale. It is somewhat discouraging to work on a particular area for a time and to still feel as though one is getting—which parallels the blackened and repulsive state of the earthen vessel after having been lit for a night.
In such a case, one has two choices. The first is to work on a different area that requires attention. Since my realization of the damage this other trait does is fresh for me I don’t feel discouraged working on this new trait for a new period of time. Such “switching” is represented by the use of a fresh vessel for the next night’s lighting. The other choice is to place the new trait “in the oven.” That means “firing oneself up” about how important it is to change and receiving a new injection of energy by realizing every effort made to change a bad trait is very precious to Hashem. In this way, one “reconstitutes” the vessel and renews it, so that it is possible to continue the spiritual work without feeling “blackened” and disgusted with oneself.
The Vilna Gaon, zt”l, said about the hardest traits to overcome: “One who is stubborn will succeed!”

[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

Friday, December 4, 2015

Parshas Vayeshev

Komrana How could Yosef suspect his brothers of such serious sins?
 Rav Tzadok: How could the brothers be certain that Yosef was not a special tzaddik who they had misunderstood? Why does the verse mention that they broke breead immediately after they threw him in the pit? 
Zohar: Dinah was exceedingly rigtheous