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Blog - Torah Insights

Inheritance: the Deepest form of Relationship - פנחס

Inheritance: the Deepest form of Relationship  

What is the nature of your relationships? Are they rational, based on the benefit we receive,or are they unconditional? 

There are three dimensions included in the relationship between the land of Israel and the Jewish people. (1) The land was divided based on  the population of the tribe. As the verse states: “To the large [tribe] you shall give a larger inheritance and to a smaller tribe you shall give a smaller inheritance, each person shall be given an inheritance according to his number (Numbers 26:54).” (2) The land was divided by lottery. As the verse states: “Only through lot shall the Land be apportioned; they shall inherit it according to the names of their fathers' tribes. The inheritance shall be apportioned between the numerous and the few, according to lot (Numbers 26:55-56).” [According to one opinion, the lottery miraculously confirmed the division based on the size of the tribe. Another opinion is that the lottery determined the location where the tribe would receive its portion]. (3) The land of Israel is the inheritance of every Jew. As the verse states: “I will give it to you as a heritage; I am the Lord (Exodus 6:8).”    

 

The three aspects of our relationship with the land of Israel reflect the three dimensions of our relationship with G-d. 

The first is the “allocation based on population”. The rational division of the land represents the logical relationship with G-d. We serve G-d because we appreciate and understand the importance of the relationship, and, in turn, G-d’s connection to the people of Israel in general, and the individual Jew in particular, is commensurate with the love, loyalty and service of the Jew to G-d. At this level G-d values and derives benefit from the commandments that we fulfill and the service we perform. 

The second aspect of the relationship to the land of Israel is the lottery which determined which portion the Jew would receive. When we don't want to decide based on logical criteria, we employ a lottery. In our relationship with G-d, the lottery represents the supranational bond, which is unconditional, not dependent on any reason. On this level, G-d’s connection to us is not because of anything we can offer Him but rather because G-d chose us to be his people. On this level, G-d’s choice is free of any external influence. He chooses to relate to us not because of anything we can give him (which would then influence his choice to choose us), but rather we were chosen only because that is what G-d chose to do, regardless of our own worthiness. 

The third dimension of the relationship is even deeper. On the first two levels, G-d and the people are two distinct entities that relate to each other. From the third perspective, the inheritance dimension of the relationship, G-d and the people are one. 

The conventional understanding of inheritance is that the estate is transferred from the ownership of the deceased to the ownership of the heir. According to Jewish law however, the mechanism of inheritance is not that the estate transfers to the heir, but rather the heir takes the place of the deceased relative, because the heir is considered one and the same with his relative. 

This represents the deepest element of our bond with G-d. We recognize  that we are not an entity separate from G-d, who merely enjoys a relationship with G-d, but rather we are like the heir who 0is legally considered an extension of, and one entity with, the relative. We are in fact one with G-d, since our soul is a part of G-d above.

The history of our people can be divided into three general periods, consistent with the three perspectives described above.

 The patriarchs experienced the logical relationship. Abraham discovered G-d by his own intellectual inquiry and G-d loved him as a result of his dedication and loving kindness. 

When we received the Torah at Mount Sinai a new era was ushered in. When G-d chose us to be his people the deeper dimension of our relationship was expressed. We experienced the unconditional bond that kept us together even when we ignored our connection and did not live up to our responsibility and purpose.  

The third and most profound element of the relationship will be experienced in the era of the future redemption. We will then feel the deepest truth, that we and G-d are in fact one. 

Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe, Lekutei Sichos, Pinchos vol. 28 sicha 2.   

 

The Blessing of the Jewish Home - חוקת בלק

The Blessing of the Jewish Home 

The greatest blessings and praises of the Jewish people recorded in the Torah, were, ironically, spoken by the gentile prophet Balaam, who tried to curse the Jewish people.  

Balaam was the great gentile prophet hired by Balak, king of Moab, to curse the Jews, who were camped at the bank of the Jordan River as they readied to cross into the promised land. The Torah relates in intricate detail, the story of Balaam's travel to the proximity of the Jewish camp, how Balak took Balaam to the mountain peaks so he could gaze upon the Jewish people as he would curse them. Balak’s plan was foiled when  G-d placed blessings in the mouth of Balaam instead of curses.

Of all the praise and blessings uttered by Balaam, one verse was incorporated into our daily prayers: 

How goodly are your tents, O Jacob, your dwelling places, O Israel! (Numbers 24:5)

“How goodly are your tents Jacob”: Balaam was a prophet, steeped in spirituality, the service of G-d was not foreign to him. What  impressed him about the Jewish people and their culture was that while virtually all people created temples and designated places for worship, the Jewish people understood that it is primarily in the home, not the shrines and temples, where the connection to G-d is experienced and celebrated. Balaam understood that a Jew’s relationship with holiness is not relegated to a specific time and place, when he separates from daily life and goes to worship, but rather, holiness permeates life itself and expresses itself within the home of every individual Jew. 

“Your dwelling places Israel”: The word for “dwelling places” is the same word the Torah  uses to describe the tabernacle, the temple that the Jewish people built in the desert, fulfilling the commandment: “they shall make for me a sanctuary and I will dwell amongst them”. At this point in the Torah when we hear the word “mishkenosecha” (your dwelling places) we can't help but think of the word “mishkan” (tabernacle).  What Balaam was saying  about the Jewish people was that every Jewish home is indeed a mishkan, a sanctuary for the Divine presence.     

As we read Balaam’s  words, we are mindful of our own individual mission. Each of our homes can become a dwelling place for G-d, when it becomes a place of Torah study, hospitality, charity,  celebration of Shabbat, and performing all Mitzvot, creating a dwelling place for G-d in our home.

 

Inspired Action - Korach

Inspired Action

Korach, the cousin of Moses, ignited a rebellion against Moses. He gathered a group of disgruntled men and they sought to undermine the leadership of Moses. As the Torah describes: 

They assembled against Moses and Aaron, and said to them, "You take too much upon yourselves, for the entire congregation are all holy, and the Lord is in their midst. So why do you raise yourselves above the Lord's assembly?" (Numbers 16:3)

Moses had been leading the Jewish people for a number of years at this point, why did Korach wait until this point to rebel against Moses? The classic interpretation is that Korach was upset at the appointment of his younger cousin as the leader of the tribe of Levi, and that was the grievance that inspired the rebellion. But that interpretation is insufficient because the rebellion occurred a few months after the appointment. 

The Chassidic interpretation is that the rebellion of Korach could only have happened after the sin of the spies. The Chassidic writings explain that the spies did not want to enter the land of Israel and preferred to remain in the desert because they did not want to engage in action. They preferred to live a life of study and meditation, and they felt that entering the land, working its soil, engaging in positive actions to create a just society, would distract them from their spiritual enlightenment. 

They, however, were terribly mistaken. Because the purpose of creation, explains Judaism, is action. Before the soul descends upon this earth the soul lived a spiritual existence, the purpose of the descent is to impact the world through tangible action. 

The takeaway of the story of the spies is, the superiority of action over thought, emotion, and spiritual enlightenment. And here is where Korach stepped in with his rebellion. 

Korach understood that in the arena of wisdom, prophecy, spirituality, character refinement, and holiness, Moses and Aaron were far superior to the rest of the people. Korach argued that in the arena of action, which, as we have learned from the error of the spies, is primary, everyone is equal. True that Moses was a greater scholar, prophet, and was far more in touch with  Divine reality, but in the realm of action, Moses was just like everyone else. All Jewish people, including Moses, do the same actions, they eat the same Matzah, light the same candles, and put on the same Tefillin.

Just like the spies, Korach too was deeply mistaken. 

For while Judaism highlights the supremacy of action, Judaism calls for inspired action. It is not enough to act, our actions must also be imbued with understanding and feeling. While it is certainly true that the act of helping the poor is supreme, nevertheless Judaism teaches that the act of kindness must be imbued with compassion and empathy, wisdom, and a feeling of closeness to G-d. And because Judaism requires inspired action, we, therefore, need the leadership of Moses and Aaron, spiritual giants who teach us how to find the treasures of spirituality embedded within our heart and soul.  

The spies sought spirituality alone. 

Korach sought action alone. 

Moses and Aaron embody the truth of Judaism: action is superior, but the goal is to inspire the action. 

(Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe, Lekutei Sichos, Korach vol. 4)

Two Types of Spies - שלח

Two Types of Spies

The spies that Moses sent to scout out the land returned with a devastating report and convinced the Jewish people that conquering the land would be an impossible task. In the story, there are two words used for the act of spying. In the book of Deuteronomy Moses recounts how the people approached him and requested that he dispatch spies: 

And all of you approached me and said, "Let us send men ahead of us so that they will search out the land for us and bring us back word by which route we shall go up, and to which cities we shall come." (Deuteronomy 1:22)

The Hebrew word for spying employed by the people was “Veyachperu”, which is related to the word “to dig” (“Lachpor”) and “shame” (“Cherpah”). The Jewish people asked Moses to send spies whose mandate would be to “dig” and uncover the vulnerabilities of the defenses of the land which would allow them to conquer it. Yet, the word also means “shame”, which implies that, perhaps subconsciously, the Jewish people hoped that the spies would look for the weakness of the land to discover its faults and undesirable traits.  

Yet, when G-d told Moses to send spies, G-d used a different word for spying. In our portion the Torah tells us: 

The Lord spoke to Moses saying: "Send out for yourself men who will scout the Land of Canaan, which I am giving to the children of Israel. You shall send one man each for his father's tribe; each one shall be a chieftain in their midst." (Numbers 13:1-2)

The Hebrew word for spies used by G-d is “veyaturu”, which means to look for something positive. G-d agreed to send spies, but only once the mandate of their mission would be defined. G-d said, in order for the mission to be successful, it must be defined, the key word is not “veyachperu”, the spies must not look for the “shame” and negativity of the land, but rather “veyaturu” they must look for the positive. 

This lesson applies to each of us as well. When we look at any circumstance, relationship, or opportunity, it's up to us to determine what we will see. If we look for the negative we will find it. If we look for the positive we will find it. 

What we see depends on what we look for.   

(Based on the commentary of Rabbi S.R. Hirsh)

Advantage of the Second Chance - בהעלותך

Advantage of the Second Chance

One of the few commandments in the Torah that were initiated not by G-d but by the Jewish people is the commandment of the second Passover. There were people who were ritually impure during the appointed time for bringing the Passover offering, on the 14th of Nissan, which disqualified them from bringing it. They approached Moses and demanded “why should we be excluded so as not to bring the offering of the Lord in its appointed time, with all the children of Israel?”. G-d then instructed the laws of the Second Passover, if someone was unable to bring the Passover offering he would have a second chance to bring it exactly one month later. 

Chassidic philosophy explains that the broader theme of the second Passover is that G-d grants us a second chance to correct anything we have missed or done wrong initially. The first Passover represents the service of the righteous. Because at the time of the exodus from Egypt, which is the birthday of our people, we were spiritually pure as a newborn child. The Second Passover, by contrast, represents the service of Teshuvah, the service of returning to G-d after the experience of separation. 

When we examine the laws of the second Passover we see that there are profound advantages to the second Passover. In some ways, the second Passover is more spiritually powerful than the first.      

During the entire seven days (or, outside of Israel, eight days) of the holiday of Passover it is prohibited to eat and even to own any bread. The second passover differs from the first one in two important ways: 1. It is permitted to own bread and have it in the home while eating the Passover offering. 2. The second Passover lasted for only one day. 

The difference between the service of the righteous person and the service of the returnee, is that the righteous person does not interact with negativity. His effort is devoted to the realm of holiness: he studies Torah and fulfills the commandments with a steady pace of growth. The lifestyle of the righteous is represented by the laws of the first Passover: bread, which represents the negativity that stems from the inflated ego, is prohibited, because the righteous person does not succumb to the negativity. The holiday lasts for a complete cycle of seven days which represents that the righteous person gradually fills all of his seven emotional characteristics with holiness.

The second Passover, By contrast, represents the person returning to G-d after experiencing sin and unholiness. Unlike the righteous person who has no contact with negativity at all, the one returning to G-d transforms the negative experience to holiness, the negative experience itself has been transformed to intensify his relationship with G-d. Therefore, during the second Passover, both Matzah and bread can be in the home simultaneously, because the bread, the negativity itself, has been transformed to be able to be incorporated into the life of the Jew. While the influence of the righteous person is limited to the realm of holiness, the returnee can elevate every experience, vastly expanding the reach of holiness.     

Having experienced the pain of separation, the returnee returns to G-d with far greater passion than the commitment of the righteous. The returnee’s connection stems from a deeper place within his soul, a place that transcends calculation and limitation, the transformation that comes through his connection to G-d transcends the orderly process of growth. As the Zohar states: “returning to G-d occurs in one moment”, therefore the second Passover is one day. Because when one reaches the deep recesses of his soul the transformation occurs instantaneously.

(Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe, Lekutei Sichos 18 Behaaloscha 3)  


Your Unique Offering - נשא

Your Unique Offering 

The portion of Naso, which concludes with the description of the offerings of the leaders of the tribes on the day of the inauguration of the temple, is the longest portion of the Torah. The Torah describes how each of the twelve leaders brought an offering on the day of the inauguration, a total of six covered wagons and twelve oxen, and G-d then instructed Moses that each leader should offer his individual offering for the dedication of the altar on the subsequent days, one offering per day. 

The chieftains brought [offerings for] the dedication of the altar on the day it was anointed; the chieftains presented their offerings in front of the altar.

The Lord said to Moses: One chieftain each day, one chieftain each day, shall present his offering for the dedication of the altar. (Numbers 7:10-11)

The Torah is written in concise language, many laws of the Torah are derived from a single letter in the Torah. Why then does the Torah devote so many verses to reiterate each of the twelve identical offerings? 

A Jew may feel that his effort to serve G-d and to create a relationship with G-d is not significant in the eyes of G-d. After all, there are so many other Jews practicing the same Mitzvah. One may wonder about what value there is in his listening to the sound of the Shofar, eating Matzah on Passover or lighting Shabbat candles, when there are millions of other people doing the same thing.

The repetition of the specifics of each of the identical offerings teaches us a profound lesson: to G-d, no two offerings are the same. While two people may do the same deed, the intention, the emotion, the struggle, is unique to each person. While the leaders wanted to offer their offerings on the day of inauguration, G-d told Moses that each leader should offer his offering on his own day. Because to G-d every offering, every action, is unique. 

You are unique. No other person does the Mitzvah with the identical intention as you do. No other person experiences life exactly the way you do. Your contribution, your offering is of crucial importance in the eyes of G-d. The Torah reminds you, that no one can offer the universe what you can.   

(Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe, Lekutei Sichos 8 Naso Sicha 2 p. 43)


Faith or Reason? - במדבר

Faith or Reason? 

Which is the preferred path to create a relationship with G-d, faith or reason?

Faith is powerful. It is simple. Pure. Not up for debate. Faith inspires commitment and brings comfort. Like a child who puts his trust in his parents, the believer puts his trust in G-d.

Reason is complicated. We seek to investigate and understand G-d, in order to internalize our relationship. We study and explore in order to enrich our relationship. Reason however is complicated. To every claim there can be a counterclaim, to every perspective there is a counter perspective. One who seeks to understand and learn must be ready for the battlefield of ideas. Focusing on reason has none of the tranquility and comfort of pure faith. 

Which is preferable, the simplicity of faith or complexity of reason? 

In the opening portion of the book of Numbers we read about how G-d commanded Moses to take a census of all the Israelites who were fit for battle:

From twenty years old and upwards, all who are fit to go out to the army in Israel, you shall count them by their legions you and Aaron. (Numbers 1:3)

The Torah then tells us that the Levites should be counted separately from the other tribes, not from age twenty, as the Israelites were counted, but rather from thirty days old: 

Count the children of Levi according to their fathers' house according to their families. Count all males from the age of one month and upward. (ibid. 3:15)

And finally, toward the end of the portion, we read about an additional census. This one was for the Levites who were thirty years old, who reached the age of performing the service of the temple: 

From the age of thirty until the age of fifty, all who enter the service, to do work in the Tent of Meeting. (ibid. 4:3)

Why were the Levites counted twice, at thirty days old and again at thirty years old? The Chassidic masters explain that, like everything else in the Torah, the census has a spiritual meaning as well. The census of the Israelites going to battle, represents the study of Torah. The census therefore begins at age twenty, when a person reaches his full intellectual capacity. Logical inquiry is like battle, where every idea must be analyzed and challenged. 

The Levites represent faith. Faith does not require intellectual maturity, therefore the census of the Levites was from thirty days, because the child is capable of a deeper level of faith than the adult. 

Yet the Levites were counted not once but twice, because there are two levels of faith. There is the census of the Levites from thirty days old, which represents simple childlike faith. The census of the Levites at thirty years old represents the higher form of faith, one that follows intellectual inquiry and understanding. After the person studies and explores all that he can understand, he realizes the limit of human knowledge. Following intellectual exploration, the Jews reach a higher level of faith, a faith that follows reason. The reason itself leads to faith. 

In the final analysis, our relationship with G-d incorporates all three elements: we begin with simple faith (corresponding to the census of the Levites from thirty days old), this is followed by study and intellectual inquiry (corresponding to the census of the Israelites from age twenty), and finally the higher form of faith (corresponding to the census of the Levites from age thirty), the faith which follows study.

(Adapted from the Kedushas Levi)   




How to Deal with Burnout? - בהר בחוקותי

How to Deal with Burnout?

Sooner or later we all experience burnout. We begin with enthusiasm, excited about an idea, a project, starting a business, or raising a family. We set out to achieve our goal with passion, dedication, and a sense of meaning and purpose. Inevitably, however, we lose some of the excitement. At times we feel burnout, drained of energy, and frustrated by the many details and specific tasks that seem to overwhelm us. 

Chassidic philosophy describes this phenomenon as the disconnect between “Chochmah” (wisdom), the general idea, the flash of inspiration, and “Binah” (understanding), when the general idea is applied in detail. The “light” which is present in the general idea, is not felt in the detail. 

[To illustrate: a student enrolls in medical school because he is passionate about helping people. He is filled with excitement and charged with energy. Three years down the road,   studying for an exam at midnight on a Wednesday night, the excitement has evaporated.  Because it is difficult to feel that this specific detail, this exam, is part of the larger process of becoming a healer and helping people.] 

The solution to the problem is to connect the general idea with the detail, or, in Chassidic parlance, to connect the details of “Binah” with the light of “Chochmah”. While one is engaged in a mundane task, he must focus on the goal of this detail. If one can see the larger picture, then the enthusiasm which is present in the general will energize the specific as well. [For example, I may be frustrated that I have to stand on line in the market to buy vegetables for dinner, but, I can look at the task of waiting on line as a critical step which will allow me to enjoy dinner with my loves ones. This is the way the detail is connected to the general experience.]

All this applies to our relationship with G-d. 

In this week’s portion the Torah tells us that the laws of the Sabbatical year were related to the Jewish people at Sinai. Two great sages, Rabbi Yishmael and Rabbi Akiva debate what the precise meaning of the words “at Sinai” is. Rabbi Yishmael asserts that only the general principles of the commandments were taught at Sinai, while the details of the laws were taught in the Tent of Meeting (the temple constructed in the desert). Rabbi Akiva disagrees and says that both the general rules of the commandments as well as their particular details were taught at Sinai.

What are the implications of their disagreement? 

Sinai, where the Jewish people experienced the Divine revelation in all its intensity, represents the intense feeling of connection and devotion to G-d. Rabbi Yishmael explains that only the general ideas of the commandments are “from Sinai”, meaning only the general idea of the commandments can elicit within us the same excitement as we experienced at Sinai. Each morning, during prayer, we experience a general devotion to G-d that is reminiscent of the experience at Sinai. Once we are engaged in the specifics of the commandments, however, once we are engaged in the specific tasks of the day,  it is impossible to feel the excitement of Sinai. The details of the laws, therefore, were taught at the Tent of Meeting. 

In contrast to Rabbi Yishmael, who was a high priest whose life experiences kept him within the realm of the holy and tranquil, Rabbi Akiva’s spiritual journey was far more challenging. Rabbi Akiva was a descendant of converts, he began to study Torah at the age of forty, and is the embodiment of one who must overcome difficulty in order to serve G-d. 

Rabbi Akiva’s life experiences taught him that in order to persevere one must be able to experience the full intensity of inspiration every moment. Rabbi Akiva told his students that every day of his life he was yearning to sacrifice his life in total commitment to G-d. 

Rabbi Akiva argues, and exemplifies, that one can indeed have the passion of Sinai not only in the general, not only when one makes general life decisions, but also every moment of every day. Rabbi Akiva shows us that the general ideas as well as the details were both said at Sinai.  

(Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe, Lekutei Sichos 17 Behar 1.)  

 

Teach Me How To Run - אמור

Teach Me How to Run

The Song of Songs, the Biblical book that describes the love between a young woman and her beloved, is a metaphor for the deep relationship between G-d, the groom, and the Jewish people, the bride. 

Early in the book, we read the verse spoken by the woman to her beloved: 

Draw me after you, let us run! The king has brought me to his chambers. We will rejoice and be glad in you. We will recall your love more fragrant than wine; they have loved you sincerely. (Song of Songs 1:4)

The Chassidic masters explain that the first three clauses of the verse refer to three stages of the relationship between G-d and the Jewish people, represented in (1) the holiday of Passover, (2) the counting of the Omer (during the seven weeks between Passover and Shavuot), (3) and the holiday of Shavuot (which commemorates the giving of the Torah at Sinai). 

“Draw me after you”: The woman is helpless to pursue the person she loves. She is trapped by her circumstances. All she can do is call out to her beloved to draw her after him. To inspire her and free her from the shackles holding her back. This metaphoric scene captures the reality of the Jewish people in Egypt. They were enslaved not only physically but also spiritually. They were unable to free themselves from the shackles and the perspective of Egypt. They cried out to G-d, and G-d rescued his beloved. G-d pulled them out of Egypt without any effort on their part. 

“Let us run!”: After the beloved drew her near, she too can run. This corresponds to the seven weeks of counting the omer, the seven weeks of preparation for the giving of the Torah, when the Jewish people work to refine themselves, growing spiritually in preparation for receiving the Torah. That is why the verse states “we will run”, because, unlike in Egypt where the Jewish people were passive, during the counting of the omer, the Jewish people are investing effort, they are running, to become closer to G-d. 

“The king has brought me to his chambers”: This refers to the holiday of Shavuot, when we receive the Torah. When we study Torah we experience an intimate bond with G-d. We are in his innermost chamber. 

A careful analysis of the grammar reveals deep insight into our inner self. The Kabbalah teaches that each person possesses two souls. The G-dly soul seeks transcendence and holiness, and the animal soul which is self-oriented seeks physical pleasures. On Passover, when we experience Divine inspiration without any effort on our part, it is specifically our G-dly soul that is affected. That is why the verse states “Draw me”, in the singular. Because the animal soul is not affected by the inspiration that descends from above. During the seven weeks of refinement that precede the giving of the Torah, the G-dly soul seeks to awaken within the animal soul a desire to come close to G-d. Slowly, the G-dly soul demonstrates to the animal soul that it is desirable to experience spirituality. That the greatest pleasure one can achieve is transcendence. Which is why the verse uses the expression “we will run” in the plural. Because at this point both the G-dly soul and the animal soul are involved together.

Perhaps the most surprising insight in this verse is that not only is the animal soul affected by the G-dly soul, but the reverse is also true. The G-dly soul is affected by  the animal soul. The G-dly soul is wise, enlightened, and kind. But the G-dly soul does not have nearly as much passion as the animal soul. When the animal soul wants something it wants it forcefully and completely. There is no delay and no compromise. The animal soul is either not engaged or engaged completely, with all its energy and might. While the G-dly soul “walks”, the animal soul “runs”. 

The verse states “we will run” in the plural. For once the G-dly soul teaches the animal soul the sweetness of becoming close to G-d, the animal soul begins to “run”, unleashing its desire and passion, which may have been previously directed toward unholy matters, to holiness. In the process, the animal soul teaches the G-dly soul how to “run”. The G-dly soul learns to develop an intense passion for G-d. 

The G-dly soul teaches the animal soul what to love, and the animal soul teaches the G-dly soul how to love.

(Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe, Usfartem Lachem 5711) 

How To Judge Your Fellow - אחרי קדושים

How To Judge Your Fellow

What do you think of when you hear the word holiness? 

Some would think about spirituality, prayer, perhaps fasting on Yom Kippur. Interestingly, the portion of the Torah called Kedoshim, holy, discusses the proper conduct between people. The Torah believes that the test of holiness is how one treats one’s  fellow human being. 

Amongst the many commandments in the portion of Kedoshim, we read a verse about the judicial system, the judges must treat all people who come before them equally:   

You shall commit no injustice in judgment; you shall not favor a poor person or respect a great man; you shall judge your fellow with righteousness. (Leviticus 19:15)

Rashi addresses the final clause of the verse “you shall judge your fellow with righteousness”, and explains that the verse is referring to the judges sitting in judgment. But there is another meaning as well. For in one sense, each of us is a judge. We each sit in judgment and decided how to evaluate other people. Rashi, therefore, offers a second interpretation: “another explanation is: judge your fellow favorably.”

What does it mean to judge others favorably? 

The conventional interpretation is to give others the benefit of the doubt. I must hold off on judging the person before I know all the facts. Even if I do know all the facts, I must take into consideration that I do not know the extent of another person’s challenges and struggles. When someone fails, when someone does something wrong, I can not judge them, because I have no idea of the magnitude of their inner struggle. 

Rashi’s words however include a deeper meaning as well. Translated literally they read: “judge your fellow meritoriously”. Not only should I not judge the other person negatively, but I must see them as if they have great merit. At first glance this seems strange. Perhaps we can overlook the negative behavior because we understand that there may be extenuating circumstances, but why would I consider the person meritorious?

The verse states “G-d has made one corresponding to the other”, this means that there is a balance between the positive forces and the negative forces in the world and the human soul. This indicates that if someone has a great challenge, he was also gifted with the strength, energy and skills necessary to overcome the challenge.   

When I see someone doing something wrong, I have a choice to make. I can choose to focus on the negative action and deem the person to be inferior. Or, I can judge the person meritoriously. I can choose to see not the negativity, which is an expression of the person’s great internal struggle, but rather I can see the great potential gifted to this person. For if someone is more challenged than me, it also means that he has greater spiritual potential then I do. 

It is up to me to judge the people around me favorably. They must feel that instead of their shortcomings I see their merit, and define them by the reservoir of positivity within them. 

If I will judge my fellow meritoriously then he too will begin to believe in his merit, and seek to express his innate positivity. 

(Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe, Lekutei Sichos Emor vol. 27 Sicha 1)  


Why Can't I Get Along With Others? - תזריע מצורע

Why Can't I Get Along With Others? 

Of all the forms of ritual impurity discussed in the Torah, only the impurity of the Metzora (a person afflicted with the skin ailment called Tzaraat) is so severe that the Torah commands “he shall dwell isolated; his dwelling shall be outside the camp.” (Leviticus 13:46). The sages explain that the Tzaraat affliction comes as a consequence for slander and evil speech. The Torah understands that evil speech undermines and destroys the harmony of a family, community, and society. The Metzora therefore must sit in solitude in order for him to feel the pain of loneliness and learn to appreciate the value of community and togetherness. Only then can he be reintegrated into the community. 

The Kabbalists teach that every phenomenon that exists on earth originates in the spiritual worlds. Often, a destructive energy on earth can be corrected by correcting and realigning its source in the spiritual worlds. When the Kabbalists read the portion of the Metzora, they looked to understand the spiritual source of slander and evil speech and sought to heal the symptom, the evil speech, by addressing the spiritual source. 

The Zohar states that the root cause of Tzaraat is that the “light of wisdom”, which allows the other attributes to integrate, departs, leaving each attribute in a state of isolation, unable to integrate with the other attributes in a wholesome way. To explain:  the divine attributes are the building blocks of creation, these attributes are also reflected within the soul of every person. The attributes and soul powers differ from one another, and don’t always integrate easily. For example, the attribute of kindness seeks to provide kindness to every creation, regardless of whether the creation is deserving. The attribute of strength, or discipline, is judgmental and does not want to give kindness to someone who is undeserving. These opposing perspectives can cause great tension in the universe, within society, within families, as well as within the soul of man. 

The integration of these opposing attributes can only happen when wisdom is introduced. In Kabbalah, wisdom is synonymous with humility. When two people who see the world very differently express intense emotion, they will not be able to find a compromise, they will not be able to agree on an approach forward. If, however, they are enlightened by wisdom, if they are open to a greater perspective, they will then be able to soften their approach and integrate the positive aspects of the opposing perspective. The kind perspective will learn that there are times when kindness is counter productive and destructive. The perspective of discipline will learn that a certain measure of kindness is critical even for the goal of inspiring discipline. 

When the Metzora, who can’t seem to get along with his fellow man, looks at the revealed part of Torah, he will see the obvious diagnosis. He must cease from evil speech. When he turns to the mystical part of the Torah he will learn the root cause of his ailment. He will learn that he needs humility in order to allow him to integrate his own perspective with that of his family and community. 

The Kabbalah teaches that when someone does not have humility to live in peace with others and appreciate their different perspectives, it is usually because the person’s own emotions are intense; each emotion does not have the humility to integrate with the opposing emotion. When one cannot live in harmony with others it is often because his own emotions are not in harmony. 

Introducing the wisdom of the Torah will allow the internal soul powers to integrate with each other. This humility will help a person integrate with the people around him, creating a harmonious blend which will produce a more beautiful symphony of voices and experiences. 

(Adapted from Lekutei Torah Tazria p. 23) 

Am I kind, if I don’t always feel kind? - שמיני

Am I a kind person, if I don’t always feel kind? 

Can something be true, if it is only true some of the time? 

Am I a kind person, if I don’t always feel kind?

Do I love, if I don’t always feel the love? 

In our journey of spiritual growth, we seek to refine our character, and develop a relationship with G-d. Indeed, much of Judaism is designed to help us develop feelings of kindness and empathy to others, as well as an emotional bond with G-d. Each and every day we recite the words of the Shema prayer, we meditate on the greatness of G-d, and seek to bring to life the words of the Shema “you shall love the L-rd your G-d with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your might.” Yet, more often than not we are discouraged because it seems that we are not able to maintain this lofty spiritual state. We often fall back on our own self oriented perspective, and are not always able to feel connected to others.  

Does the fact that we cannot experience holiness consistently mean that our experience is inauthentic and false?

This question lies at the heart of a passionate dispute between Moses and his brother Aaron, in this week’s Torah portion. 

Two of Aaron’s sons died on the day the tabernacle was inaugurated. Aaron, following the commandment Moses, ate the inauguration offerings despite his state of mourning. Aaron felt that the commandment to consume the temporary offerings of the inauguration, did not apply to the ongoing daily offerings. Moses was furious and demanded to know why the daily offerings were burned and not consumed. Aaron explained his position to Moses, and “Moses heard [this], and it pleased him.”

The dispute between Moses and Aaron ran deeper than a technical dispute about a matter of law. Chassidic philosophy explains that Moses represents the unyielding, unchanging truth, while Aaron represents peace and the ability to compromise. Moses argued that there be no distinction between the temporary exhilarating spiritual moments, and the ongoing daily reality. From the perspective of Moses, the exemplifier of truth, if something is true it must be true always. Aaron’s perspective differs. Aaron was a man of peace because he was able to understand and evaluate the point of view of every person. Aaron understood that the spiritual makeup of most people does not allow them to experience the ultimate truth in a consistent way. There are extraordinary experiences (“inauguration offerings”) which are not always felt in  day to day life (“ongoing daily offerings”). 

Yet, eventually Moses agreed with Aaron, because Moses understood that indeed truth must be consistent, but there are degrees of consistency. While most people will not feel a love to G-d at every moment, they are able to experience the feeling of love for one moment every day. That too, Aaron teaches Moses, is considered consistent, that too is truth.   

The answer to these questions, then, is that if we are capable of experiencing a moment of kindness every day, if we can feel a moment of love every time we say the Shema, then those feelings are true. And they will endure. 

(Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe, Lekutei Sichos 17 Shmini 3)

 

Judaism’s Bread Complex - צו

Judaism’s Bread Complex 

Judaism has a complicated relationship with bread. All year long bread is considered the staple of sustenance, as the verse states “bread, which sustains man's heart.” During the holiday of Passover, however, bread is the enemy. Not only are we not permitted to eat bread, but we are not allowed to benefit from or even own any bread. 

If bread is so terrible on Passover, why is it celebrated all year long? 

We find this dichotomy in the temple as well. All bread offered in the temple was unleavened, as the verse states:  

No meal offering that you sacrifice to the Lord shall be made [out of anything] leavened. For you shall not cause to [go up in] smoke any leavening or any honey, [as] a fire offering to the Lord; (2:11)

Yet, there were a few exceptions. On the holiday of Shavuot there was an offering of two loaves of Chametz (leavened) bread. In addition, in this week’s portion, we read that the thanksgiving offering was offered with loaves of leavened bread:  

Along with loaves of leavened bread, he shall bring his offering along with his thanksgiving peace offering. (Leviticus 7:13)

Which begs the same question: if leavened bread is off limits in the temple, why is it offered on the holiday of Shavuot and together with the thanksgiving offering?

Bread, which is made from dough that was left to rise, represents inflated ego, the intense feeling of self. Matzah, by contrast, is flat and represents humility. Therefore, in the temple, where we come to stand before G-d, where we seek to submit to and be subsumed within, the divine presence, there is no room for the feeling of self. The Torah therefore tells us not to offer any leavened bread. That’s because we come to the temple in order to escape the confines of the ego and connect to the infinity of G-d. Therefore we don’t offer any bread which resembles the inflated ego. 

The same is true regarding Passover. The moment of the exodus from Egypt is the moment of the birth of our people. The foundation of our spiritual identity is humility before G-d. Therefore, for a full week we eradicate all traces of bread, symbolizing that we seek to rid ourselves of any trace of self orientation and we commit ourselves to a purpose greater than ourselves.

After a full week of Passover (outside of Israel we celebrate an eighth day), once we internalize the feeling of humility in all our seven emotional attributes, which correspond to the seven days of the week, we can begin to introduce bread into our spiritual diet. After a full week of experiencing humility we achieve an even greater spiritual accomplishment: we align our sense of self, our desire and pleasure, with the Divine will. On Passover we transcend ourselves, after Passover the self is transformed to want to connect to holiness.

This explains why leavened bread was offered on Shavuot, the holiday which celebrates the giving of the Torah. The Torah represents wisdom which, in the Kabbalah, is synonymous with humility. When one studies the Torah and internalizes its teachings, the “bread”, the ego, the sense of self, is transformed and it too experiences a relationship with G-d.  

The same is true regarding the bread offered with the thanksgiving offering. The Hebrew word for thanksgiving (Todah) is related to the word for acknowledgement and submission to another’s opinion. That's because thanksgiving and humility are related. For an arrogant person never feels grateful because he feels entitled to everything. Only when someone is humble, is he able to feel that he is undeserving of the gifts he received, and therefore he experiences a feeling of gratitude. 

The person offering the thanksgiving offering, then, is in a state of humility, therefore he can then offer leavened bread, signifying, that when predicated on humility, the ego itself can be transformed to holiness. 

(Adapted from Torah Or, Tehilim page 984)

The Human Hybrid - ויקרא

 

The Human Hybrid

 

The first commandment of the third book of the Torah begins with the word Adam.  

Adam, which means Man or human being, is a complicated creature with conflicting and extreme drives. The word Adam itself captures the tension between these opposite extremes. In the book of Genesis the Torah tells us that “Adam” (man) was formed from the “Adamah” (earth):    

And the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and He breathed into his nostrils the soul of life, and man became a living soul. (Genesis 2:7).  

The implication is that the human being is essentially an earthly existence, who is drawn to his source, the earth, and whose aspirations and desires are physical and earthly.    

The Kabbalists, however, teach us to look deeper than what appears at the surface and discover the often hidden reality. The word Adam has another meaning as well. Adam comes from the word “Adameh”, which means “similar”, based on the verse “I will be similar to the One above”. According to this meaning Adam’s essential quality is that, at his core, he is a spiritual being, a reflection of the Divine.   

Indeed man is a hybrid of heaven and earth. Adam possesses two souls, two essential drives. Part of man is similar to earth, self-oriented, concerned exclusively with physical well being and comfort. Yet that does not capture the full story of the human being, for man is also an Adam, “similar to the Divine”. Part of man seeks to transcend the confines of self and, like a flame surging upward, seeks to reconnect to his source in heaven. 

The opening portion of the third book of the Torah, the book of Vayikra, offers the roadmap to resolving the built-in tension within man. The opening commandment of the third book presents the laws of the offerings. G-d tells Moses:  

Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: When a man [Adam] from [among] you brings a sacrifice to the Lord; from animals, from cattle or from the flock you shall bring your sacrifice. (Leviticus 1:2) 

To create harmony within the human being man must seek, not only to come close to G-d but also to draw the animalistic, self-oriented, side of self to appreciate and value holiness and spirituality. The beginning of the verse addresses the G-dly soul within the person: “when a man [Adam] from among you brings a sacrifice to the Lord”. The second half of the verse “from animals, from cattle or from the flock you shall bring your sacrifice”, refers to the animal soul within man. The Hebrew word for sacrifice is “Karban” which means to draw close. G-d tells us that if the Divine soul within us desires to come close to heaven, we must resist the urge to forget about the animal side of self. Instead we must bring along the animal with us. We must channel the passion and desire of the animal soul to desire and connect to the spiritual. We must teach our animal, that the most pleasurable thing in life, is to connect to something greater than ourselves.    

Man is a hybrid of heaven and earth, Adam is both from the earth and similar to the Divine. The third book of the Torah, which focuses on the laws of the offerings, teaches us to manage the tension within our soul, to strive that not only our G-dly soul but also our animal soul, be drawn to the Divine. 

(Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe, Lekutei Sichos, Vayikra vol. 1).

 

Learning From the Temple’s Vessels - ויקהל פקודי

Learning From the Temple’s Vessels  

The Torah devotes no less than four portions to the details of the temple constructed by the Jewish people in the desert. Our sages teach that G-d dwells, not only in the physical temple but also in the temple each of us creates within our own heart. We must, therefore, read these portions with a careful eye on the details, for hidden within the details lies insight on how to build a temple for G-d in our life. How to fill our own environment with holiness and inspiration. 

If we look carefully we will see that the three vessels of the temple, the ark, the table and the alter, differ in their dimensions in the following way. 

All the dimensions of the ark were half cubits:

They shall make an ark of acacia wood, two and a half cubits its length, a cubit and a half its width, and a cubit and a half its height. (Exodus 25:10)

The table’s dimensions were mixed, some of the cubists were complete, and some were half cubits: 

And you shall make a table of acacia wood, two cubits its length, one cubit its width, and a cubit and a half its height. (25:23)

Unlike the ark and the table, all the dimensions of the altar were complete: 

You shall make an altar for bringing incense up in smoke; you shall make it out of acacia wood.

It shall be one cubit long and one cubit wide, a square, and two cubits high; its horns shall be [one piece] with it. (30:1-2)

The dimensions of the vessels contain a powerful and transformative lesson for our own life. 

The ark, which contained the Torah, represents wisdom. The only way to acquire wisdom is to realize that we are “half”. Our knowledge, our perspective, is incomplete. Possessing much information makes one knowledgeable, but not wise, for wisdom is the capacity to appreciate the mystery of infinite knowledge. The Hebrew word for wisdom, “Chochmah”, consists of two words: “Koach Mah”, which means “the ability to ask, what?”. In order to attain wisdom, the dimensions of the ark teach us, one must always see himself as “half”, as incomplete. This will inspire the person to seek to grow and increase in wisdom.   

The table with its bread represents the blessings of material possessions, for Judaism teaches that we can serve G-d not only when we study Torah but also when we enjoy physical blessing. The dimensions of the table, however, were complete. The lesson is that in order for a person to enjoy material blessing he must follow the teaching of the Mishnah: “Who is wealthy? One who is satisfied with his lot”. In order for a person to benefit from material wealth one must feel as if he has everything he needs in order to fulfill his purpose on earth. 

Many people harbor the illusion that if they would have more wealth they would be happy. If they could only afford a vacation, car, private jet, or if they could only get into the next tax bracket, they would, they tell themselves, finally be happy. Yet the dimensions of the table, as well as human nature, tell us otherwise. Only the dimension of the height of the table was incomplete: one and a half cubits, . The lesson is that unless one learns to be satisfied with their lot, one will never be happy and always feel as if he is lacking and incomplete. 

The altar is the only vessel whose dimensions were complete: one cubit, by one cubit, by one cubit. The altar represents serving G-d through prayer and the performance of good deeds. Only through devotion and service to G-d can man become complete. A person by definition is finite and flawed, only by connecting to his source in heaven, can man escape the state of incompleteness and reconnect to infinity.

(Adapted from the Kli Yakar, Parshas Terumah).

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