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Blog - Torah Insights

When Rosh Hashanah Collides with Shabbat

When Rosh Hashanah Collides with Shabbat 

You may not notice it, but on the evening of the last day of the year  fatigue sets in. The Kabbalah explains that the Divine desire and pleasure which motivates the creation of the universe returns to its source at the end of the year, leaving the world bereft of inner vitality and spiritual enthusiasm. G-d desired to create the world, but every year that desire evaporates back to its source, when G-d asks Himself whether  the project called existence is worth the investment. When the Jewish people gather and sound the Shofar, when they call out to G-d and display their deep desire to connect, that desire elicits  and draws down the Divine desire to once again invest in the universe, unleashing energy that was never before accessible, creating the potential for unprecedented  growth and achievement in the new year. 

When we realize the power of the Shofar to recreate the Divine desire, accessing  new energy for the new year, we wonder about a year when Rosh Hashanah falls out on Shabbat and we therefore do not sound the Shofar. Does that mean that the upcoming year will lack Divine pleasure,energy and potential?  

Chassidic philosophy explains that the energy of Shabbat achieves the same result as the sounding of the Shofar. What is Shabbat? G-d created the world in six days. During creation one is occupied with the process of creating and one cannot focus on the purpose of the project nor can one derive pleasure from the end result since it is not yet available. When building a home, for example, one is occupied with the design, architecture, and construction. It is only when the project is complete that one can experience the purpose of the construction, a home which one can derive pleasure from. The same is true about Shabbat. At the conclusion of  creation, the purpose of creation can unfold, offering immense pleasure to G-d. Therefore, just like the Shofar, the energy of Shabbat elicits Divine pleasure within creation.   

The same is true in our own experience. During the six days of the week we, each in our own way, seek to create, achieve, and succeed. On Shabbat, the Talmud teaches, “one should consider all of his work achieved”. On Shabbat we have the freedom to let go of the drive to achieve and get in touch with the purpose of all our efforts. On Shabbat we experience pleasure and delight when we dedicate ourselves to the spiritual side of life, which is the purpose of everything we have built and achieved during the six days. 

May this upcoming year be a year in which we rededicate ourselves to the gift of Shabbat, by observing its sanctity and delighting in its pleasure. 

The Story of Return - נצבים וילך

The Story of Return

After all the rebuke, in which we are told of the terrible calamities that will befall  the Jewish people during the exile, the Torah offers profound words of comfort and hope:  

And it will be, when all these things come upon you the blessing and the curse which I have set before you that you will consider in your heart, among all the nations where the Lord your God has banished you,

and you will return to the Lord, your God, with all your heart and with all your soul, and you will listen to His voice according to all that I am commanding you this day you and your children,

then, the Lord, your God, will bring back your exiles, and He will have mercy upon you. He will once again gather you from all the nations, where the Lord, your God, has dispersed you.

(Deuteronomy 30:1-3)

The Torah tells us that at the end of the long and bitter exile we will return to G-d with all our heart and soul and G-d will then bring us back to the land of Israel. This is the only time the Torah explicitly tells us about the concept of Teshuva, return to G-d. 

While Teshuva, the notion that a person can always return to G-d and correct his ways even after straying from the path of goodness, is an important theme in Judaism, the Torah does not explicitly state that there is a commandment to return to G-d. The Torah tells us that it will occur, “and it will be… and you will return to the Lord, your G-d, with all your heart and with all your soul”, but there is no commandment to return. That is why some of the great codifiers do not list Teshuva as one of the six hundred and thirteen commandments. 

How is it possible that something as fundamental as Teshuva is not classified as a commandment? 

Chasidic philosophy explains that Teshuva is not a commandment because it expresses a bond with G-d which is more profound than a commandment.  A commandment implies that the person being commanded must negate his own will and desire and fulfill the will of G-d. Teshuva however stems from the place in the soul of a Jew which wants nothing other than to cleave to its divine source. The Torah does not command Teshuva, for Teshuva can not be a commandment, after all the person in need of Teshuvah disregarded the commandment. The Torah tells us that Teshuva will inevitably occur. How can the Torah be so certain? It is because the Torah knows that within every Jew there is a soul which is a part of G-d. Sooner or later it will motivate the person to return, not because it is  commanded. For the soul does not need to be commanded. It senses that it is one with G-d and it wants nothing more than to reconnect. 

The exercise of Teshuva then, is to remove the layers of distraction and reveal our innate desire to be connected to  G-d.

Your connection to G-d is much more than a commandment. It is who you are. It is your story.  

(Adapted from the teachings if the Rebbe, Lekutei Sichos, 38 Naso 1)

How Do You Spend Your Money? - כי תבוא

How Do You Spend Your Money?

How you spend your money reflects what you value and the life you strive to create for yourself. What does the Torah tell us about what we should strive to create with our money? 

The farmer in the land of Israel is commanded to give three forms of tithings: 

The first tithing: six years of the seven year Sabbatical cycle the farmer was commanded to give ten percent of his produce to the Levites, who did not receive a portion of the land, and were dedicated to serving G-d, teaching Torah, and supporting the priests in their service in the Temple.  

The second tithing: in the first, second, fourth and fifth year of the Sabbatical cycle, the farmer was commanded to designate ten percent of the produce and eat it, or its value, In Jerusalem, in celebration with his family and with others. 

The tithing of the poor: in the third and sixth year of the Sabbatical year the farmer was commanded to give ten percent of the produce to the poor. 

These three forms of tithing are not merely a list of the causes we are commanded to support, they represent the values we strive to create in our lives. Our efforts, the money we spend, the possessions and experiences we accumulate, should all serve one of these categories of tithing. 

In order to live a healthy and wholesome life we must first create moments and experiences of spirituality, moments of prayer, study and meditation. We take some of our money, which is the produce of our efforts, creativity and energy and invest it in  the holy. That money, that investment of time and effort, is the figurative “first tithing” which is designated to support the “Levite”. For in those moments of spirituality we are experiencing the lifestyle of the Levite. 

The ultimate purpose of creation, however, is not to escape the physical world and retreat to spirituality, but rather to sanctify and elevate the material world. This is represented by the second tithing, when the Jew was commanded to eat and enjoy food, the benefit from the material world, but to do so in Jerusalem. Figuratively, this represents benefiting from the material blessings in our life but doing so in a holy context, for a spiritual purpose. 

While the second tithing is the actual purpose of creation it cannot be achieved before we experience the first tithing. In order to ensure that we are using the bounty of the physical world for a spiritual purpose we must first experience the first tithing, the spiritual experience. Only when we begin our day with a moment of study and prayer can we ensure that the experiences of rest of the day will be elevated and sanctified.

If the first tithing prepares us to be able to experience the second tithing then the tithing of the poor is the gauge that indicates to us whether we are indeed experiencing the second tithing. The indicator that our physical possessions and experiences are not making us more self centered and materialistic, but, on the contrary, are enhancing our service of G-d, is that we are able to transcend ourselves and help our fellow.   

To live a balanced life, every dollar you spend should be included in one of three categories: (1) The first tithing: serving a spiritual purpose. (2) The second tithing: a physical need or pleasure that is sanctified because it enhances a spiritual purpose. (3) the tithing of the poor: to transcend the self and contribute for the benefit of others. 

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

Song of the Angels - כי תצא

Song of the Angels 

The songs sung by the angels occupy a central part of the Jew’s daily prayers: 

“Whose ministering angels all stand at the height of the Universe, and proclaim with reverence...  they all open their mouths in holiness and purity, with song and music, and they bless, and praise, and glorify, and revere, and sanctify, and proclaim... Holy, holy, holy is Adonoy of Hosts, the fullness of all the earth is His glory. And the Ofanim and the holy Chayos, with a mighty sound rise toward the Serafim. Facing them, they offer praise and say: Blessed is the glory of Adonoy from His place.

The question begs to be asked: why do we plagiarize from the angels? Could we not have commissioned a writer to create man-made, original material to use in praise of G-d? Why couldn't our great sages and poets collaborate to produce a few pieces of good writing? 

Each of us possess not one but two souls. The animal soul which is self oriented, and the G-dly soul, which is a spark of G-d yearning to reconnect with its source in heaven. We pray with the totality of ourselves, we therefore address both the G-dly soul as well as the animal soul.   

A central part of the daily prayer is the Shema prayer, in which we meditate on the oneness of G-d, and seek to awaken a love to G-d. In the opening phrase of the Shema, “Hear O Israel”, we are talking to our inner Israel, to the divine spark within us. We seek to feel its perspective and connect to its feeling of yearning to G-d. 

But before we can focus on the G-dly soul we must first address the more dominant and aggressive force within ourselves, the animal soul, whose self oriented passion is often directed to materialism and superficiality, and directed away from the transcendent and meaningful. 

Yet Jewish mysticism teaches that everything on this earth has a source in heaven, what appears to be a negative phenomenon is, in truth, a distortion of a holy energy rooted in the spiritual source. It is our task to realign the phenomenon with its source, by channeling its inner spark in a positive direction. Doing so heals the distortion and corrects and perfects the earthly phenomenon. 

When we look at the animalistic passion in our heart and seek to direct it to positivity, we cannot inspire it with songs written by a human being, because the animalistic passion is  not influenced by rational thinking and is not affected by the music of humanity. Instead we sing the songs of the angels. The Kabbalaists explain that the intense love, awe, and passion that the angels experience, is the spiritual source for animalistic passion here on earth. The angel's passion to G-d is supra rational, and when that energy descends into this earth it is distorted into irrationality.

Thus, every morning, before we talk to our G-dly soul we take a few minutes to sing to our animal soul. We talk to it in the language it understands, the language of unbridled passion, love and desire. We tell the animal soul that the source of its intense passion is the powerful yearning and intense desire to G-d experienced by the angels and expressed in the angelic songs of praise.

This, explain the mystics, is the meaning of the opening verse of our Parsha: “when you go out to war upon (literally: on, or above) your enemy and the L-rd your G-d will place him in your hand” The intense passion of the animal soul is the spiritual  “enemy” that seeks to destroy our connection to holiness. The battle we are engaged in is the battle to transform the animalistic passion to a passion for holiness. To achieve victory in this battle, we must tap into that which is “above” the enemy. We allow it to experience its spiritual source, by letting it hear the songs of the angels.

Adapted from Likutei Torah, Ki Teitse.

Is Man a Tree of the Field? - שופטים

Is Man a Tree of the Field?

“Man is the tree of the field” says the Torah in order to explain why we should not cut down a fruit bearing tree. But does a tree capture the essence of man? 

The Midrash states that man is a microcosm of the entire world. The Kabbalah explains that human emotions are likened to trees and human intelligence is likened to the animal kingdom. Just as a seed grows into a full grown majestic tree, so too, human emotions grow and mature over time. A child loves things that are small and immature, as the child grows, his love grows too. He desires things that are more expensive and more valuable. 

A tree is stationary. While it grows upward it is rooted in one place and cannot uproot itself and implant itself elsewhere. Human emotions are similar, while one’e emotions evolve, the basic emotional makeup of a person remains the same. Some people are more inclined to love, others to anger, some to compassion, others to jealousy. 

The human mind, however, is likened to a living animal. The animal is not planted in one place. An animal can travel great distances and explore great expanses. The human mind, too, can travel great expanses. The human mind is objective and can explore perspectives very different from its own. The emotions are centered in one place, they are chiefly concerned with how the self feels, and all stimuli is filtered through the lens of the question: “how does this make me feel”. The mind, by contrast, is able to escape the trappings of self, transcend the familiar perspective of one’e own inclinations and explore ideas foreign to his native environment. 

If the tree represents subjective emotion and the animal represents the objective mind, why does the Torah tell us that man is a tree of the field, implying that the uniqueness of man is something other than his intelligence? 

The ability to think abstractly is unique to the human being. Yet abstract thought per se is not the superiority of man. Yes, humanity has made great leaps forward in developing advanced sciences, culture and philosophy. We have uncovered distant galaxies and subatomic particles. We have landed man on the moon and a rover on mars. Impressive indeed. But does abstract intelligence alone make us better, kinder, more compassionate people?

The Torah is telling us that the greatest achievement of man is when abstract thinking affects his emotions, When his capacity to be objective allows him to see the needs of others and to relate to them with human emotion. Man is the tree of the field, because abstract knowledge is valuable only to the extent that it affects the person we are. A man is a tree, because the greatest achievement of a person is when his knowledge makes him into a mentch.   

Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe, Lekutei Sichos,  Shoftim vol. 4.  

The Word Moses Introduced - ראה

The Word Moses Introduced 

The gap between G-d and the human being seems unbridgeable. G-d is infinite and transcends time and space, while man is finite, a speck of dust in comparison to the vast universe, here today and gone tomorrow. Yet the Torah teaches that man can achieve a meaningful relationship with G-d, through the six hundred and thirteen commandments, each of which is a vehicle  man can use to transcend his limited existence and to touch the infinite light. Because the Hebrew word for commandment, Mitzvah, also means connection, every commandment is a mode of connection. 

In the Book of Deuteronomy, Moses introduces a new word that does not appear in the first four books in the context of our relationship with G-d. The root word is Dveykut, which means to cleave. Dveykut is a powerful word, because it demands more than just doing what G-d commands. Dveykut means that we cleave to G-d and become one with him. 

What exactly does that mean? And is it even possible for the human being to cleave to G-d? 

When we examine the instances when Moses employed the word Dveykut, we note that Rashi offers divergent interpretations depending on the context of the verse. 

The first time the word Dveykut appears, in the verse “But you who cleave (Hadveikim) to the Lord your God are alive, all of you, this day.” Rashi does not explain the term. That is because Rashi assumes that the meaning is self understood. Indeed, earlier in the Torah the term is used to express deep love. In describing how Shechem loved Dina, the Torah says: “his soul cleaved to Dina the daughter of Jacob and he loved her”. To cleave, then, could mean to love. 

The word Dveykus appears again: 

“For if you keep all these commandments which I command you to do them, to love the Lord, your God, to walk in all His ways, and to cleave to Him.” (ibid. 11:22) 

Because love is mentioned earlier in the verse, Dveykut there cannot mean love, it would be redundant. Rashi therefore introduces another interpretation:

and to cleave to Him: Is it possible to say this? Is God not “a consuming fire”? Rather, it means: Cleave to the disciples and the Sages, and I will consider it as though you cleave to Me. 

In this week’s portion the word cleave appears once again: 

You shall follow the Lord, your God, fear Him, keep His commandments, heed His voice, worship Him, and cleave to Him. (ibid. 13:5)

Here, cleave cannot mean love, as this verse appears in the context of the theme of love of G-d, to cleave then must mean something beyond love. To cleave is the climax of the verse, therefore it cannot mean to cleave to the sages and scholars, because that cannot possibly be of greater importance than: “to follow the Lord, your God, fear Him, keep His commandments, heed His voice, worship Him”.

Rashi therefore explains: 

and cleave to Him: Cleave to His ways: bestow kindness, bury the dead, and visit the sick, just as the Holy One, blessed is He, did.

Although there are other examples of G-d performing kindness, such as when the verse states: “And the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife shirts of skin, and He dressed them”, Rashi cites specifically two forms of kindness that G-d performed: burying the dead and visiting the sick. This is because Rashi is referring to a unique form of kindness. The two examples Rashi quotes were instances where there were others available to perform the kindness, and therefore G-d was not “obligated” to step in and perform the kindness. G-d buried Aaron, although the Jewish people were present and they could have performed the burial; G-d visited Abraham after the circumcision, although there were other people available to visit him. This represents a deeper form of kindness, one that goes beyond the legal and moral obligation. 

This form of kindness represents the profound meaning of Dveykut, that, in some ways, is even more powerful than a Mitzvah, a commandment. When a person fulfills a commandment he is seeking to connect to G-d, yet there are two entities, the commander and the commanded, the person feels like a distinct and separate entity seeking to connect to G-d through fulfilling the commandment. On the other hand, Dveykut, cleaving, is a state of being  when the person does not feel separate and apart from G-d. Therefore, he cleaves to G-d’s ways even when the commandment does not compel this degree of kindness. Why does he perform this kindness? Only because this is what G-d does and he is in a state of Dveykus, cleaving to G-d. 

Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe, Lekutei Sichos 14 Re’eh Sicha 1. 

Can We Please Finish the Job? - עקב

Can We Please Finish the Job? 

Beginnings bring along a fresh sense of optimism and excitement. When we embark on a new task, when we tackle a new challenge, there is an excitement that motivates us to push forward. I will speak for myself. It is much easier for me to start a project than to finish it. Easier for me to write a paper than to edit it. And, I’ll confess, easier to begin playing with my child than to finish. Eventually burnout sets in, the excitement evaporates, my attention moves on, and completing the task seems tedious and a drain on my energy. 

Just a few weeks before he was to pass away, in his parting words to his beloved people, Moses stated: 

The entire commandment that I command you this day you shall keep to do, that you may live and multiply, and come and possess the land that the Lord swore to your forefathers. (Deuteronomy 8:1)

What is the meaning of “the entire commandment” (kol hamitzvah)? The simple meaning is that Moses was referring to the entire body of the six hundred and thirteen commandments. Indeed, that is Rashi’s first interpretation. This interpretation, however, is somewhat problematic, because at that point, when the Jewish people were still outside the promised land, there were many commandments they could not have fulfilled on “this day”. How then does the verse state that the Jewish people will merit to enter the land by keeping the “entire commandment”? Rashi therefore offers a second interpretation, which explains that “the entire commandment” refers, not to all the commandments, but rather to the totality of a single commandment. As Rashi explains:

A midrashic explanation is: If you have started a mitzvah, finish it, because it is attributed only to the one who completes it, as it is said, “And the bones of Joseph, which the children of Israel had brought up from Egypt, they buried in Shechem”. But did not Moses alone occupy himself with them to bring them up? However, since he did not complete the mitzvah [of burying the bones], and [the children of] Israel did, [this mitzvah] is accredited to their name.

Beginning the commandment, is the easy part. Here Moses is reminding us of the importance of concluding the task. The people who eventually brought Joseph’s bones back to Israel, completing the cycle, returning Joseph to the land from which he was kidnapped more than two centuries earlier, could not claim that they developed the idea to perform this good deed. It was not an expression of their own creativity and kindness. But they are the ones who get the credit for they are the ones who completed the task. 

This is true in our life as well. We may feel far more inspired in the beginning of a project, but it is not truly ours unless and until we conclude those final touches and complete the endeavor. And, this is true in the span of history. The great giants of our past, our patriarchs and matriarchs, sages and scholars, mystics and philosophers have revolutionized the world and  began, and continued, the Jewish mission of transforming the world into a Divine garden of goodness and kindness. They had the vision, passion and focus, that we could never match. But it is we who will receive the credit for ushering in the era of redemption with the coming of the righteous Moshiach, because it is we who will complete the task.

(Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe, Lekutei Sichos vol. 19, Eikev Sicha 2)


Declaration of Faith or Lifestyle Manual? - ואתחנן

Declaration of Faith or Lifestyle Manual?

The most important Jewish declaration, which we are commanded to recite every evening and every morning, appears in our Parsha. The Shema is the declaration of the unity of G-d: Hear O Israel, the L-rd our G-d, the L-ord is one.

The Shema, however, is more than a declaration of faith. Abstract faith is not enough; Judaism teaches that our purpose is to impact life on earth. In the realm of faith, our connection to G-d is theoretical, the Shema reminds us that our relationship with G-d must permeate our daily lifestyle. The Shema then, is not merely a declaration of the unity of G-d, but rather, it is a manual of how to experience the Divine unity in every aspect of our life. 

Thus, the Shema continues by describing how the idea of faith effects, not just our understanding, but our emotion as well: You shall love the L-rd your G‑d with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might.

The Shema guides us on how to implement the unity of G-d in our thought, speech, and action. 

We connect our thoughts to G-d through the study of Torah: And these words which I command you today shall be upon your heart. You shall teach them thoroughly to your children, 

We influence our speech through the recitation of the words of the Torah (and the words of the Shema): and you shall speak of them when you sit in your house and when you walk on the road, when you lie down and when you rise.

The oneness of G-d permeates our action through the performance of the commandments, symbolized by the commandments to tie the Tefilin on our head and arm: You shall bind them as a sign upon your hand, and they shall be for a reminder between your eyes.

A personal relationship with G-d has been achieved, yet the Shema is not yet concluded. Because our task is to spread holiness, not only in our own space but rather, to the rest of the world as well. The Mezuzah, the words of the Shema written on parchment which we place on the posts of our doors, reminds us that the light of holiness must spread through the doors of our homes and the gates of our courtyards, and influence the rest of the world as well: And you shall write them upon the doorposts of your house and upon your gates.   

(Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe, Tzion Bimishpat Tipadeh, 5739)

Two Forms of Urban Life - דברים

Two Forms of Urban Life 

There are two words in Biblical Hebrew for the word city. The common word, used in the overwhelming majority of cases is ir, the second word is kiryah.

There are two words for city, because there are two types of cities. The two cities may look the same, they both have shops and boulevards, parks and homes, yet there is a profound difference between them. The ir is a city that houses many individuals, the kiryah  is a place where the many individuals experience social cohesion. They feel interconnected and interdependent, part of one social fabric. The kiryah is more than a collection of individuals, the people in the kiryah are united, they care for each other and they view the needs of their neighbor as their own. In short, the ir is a collection of individuals, the kiryah is a community.  

In our portion Moses uses the word kiryah to describe the cities that the Jewish people conquered east of the Jordan: 

From Aroer which is on the edge of the valley of Arnon, and from the city that is in the valley, even unto Gilead, there was not a kiryah (city) too high for us: the Lord our God delivered up all before us. (Deuteronomy 2:36)

During wartime the unity of a city, and the cohesion of its inhabitants, is critical. For the city to survive a large scale threat, each individual person must suspend their personal wellbeing and work to save the collective city. Therefore when Moses describes the fortitude of the enemy they overcame, he mentions, not only their physical strength, but their spiritual strength as well: they were a kiryah, united and connected. This highlights the great miracle that the Jewish people were successful in conquering cities that were physically fortified and, perhaps more importantly, spiritually fortified. 

[Kiryah also appears regarding the commandment to establish cities of refuge to protect the inadvertent killer, the Torah states: 

You shall designate (vihikrisem) cities for yourselves; they shall be cities of refuge for you, and a murderer who killed a person unintentionally shall flee there. (Numbers 35:11). 

The word the Torah uses for “designate” is vihikrisem, which is the same root as the word kiryah. The Torah is telling us that in order for the city of refuge to have the desired effect of rehabilitation and atonement, we must ensure that the city of refuge is indeed a kiryah. The inadvertent killer was not careful enough in protecting human life, for him to be rehabilitated and healed, he must learn to transcend his own ego and care for others as much as he is concerned about himself. The city of refuge, then must be a place whose inhabitants exemplify unity and concern for one another. Therefore the commandment to establish the city of refuge literally reads “transform the city into a kiryah”.]

As the Jewish people were about to enter the land of Israel, Moses introduced the concept of kiryah. There are many cities that are united around a common cause that all members of the society can relate to. Yet in order for the Jewish people to succeed they would have to produce a deeper level of kiryah, a deeper level of unity and connection, one that would run deeper than the unity based on a common cause and benefit. The Jewish people are able to create a kiryah, a united society, because at our core we are one, we are part of the same spiritual soul and energy. If we are to be successful in creating a healthy society in Israel, we must tap into the part of our soul that is one with the souls of our fellow, and sense the oneness. We must create a kiryah, where each individual is part of a greater collective united community. 

(Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe, Lekutei Sichos 29 Devarim 1)


The Fall - מטות מסעי


The Fall

In the final portion of the fourth book of the Torah we read about the borders of the land of Israel. 

Command the children of Israel and say to them: “This is the land that shall fall to you as an inheritance, the land of Canaan according to its borders.” (Numbers 34:2). 

There are two points in this verse which Rashi addresses:

1) Rashi explains that the exact borders of the land were written to inform us regarding  the area in which the commandments that are dependent on the land of Israel apply: 

Since many mitzvos apply in the land and do not apply outside the land, the Torah found it necessary to describe the outer limits of its boundaries from all sides, to inform you that the mitzvos apply everywhere within these borders.

2) Rashi moves on to explain why the verse uses the term “falling”, which is a negative term, in relation to the land of Israel (“this is the land that will fall to you”): 

Shall fall to you -- Since it was apportioned by lot, the division is described in terms of falling . Midrash Aggadah says that because the Holy One, blessed is He, cast down

Every concept in the Torah has a mystical interpretation in addition to the plain meaning of the verse. According to Chassidic teachings the verse, as well as the points Rashi clarifies, is relevant to the purpose of every Jew on this earth. 

According to the Kabbalah, the source of the Jewish soul, the Divine attribute of Malchut, is referred to as land. While earth is lower than vegetation, animal and human life, the earth produces and sustains life. The same is true regarding Malchut, the divine attribute of royalty, it is the lowest of all attributes, yet it sustains the creation by infusing it with Divine energy.

The verse “this is the land that will fall to you”, refers to the “falling”, the traumatic and steep descent, of the “land”, the soul, when it descends from heaven to earth. What is the purpose of the descent? Why does the soul leave its spiritual paradise and “fall” into a spiritually hostile and challenging environment? Rashi explains: “many mitzvos apply in the land and do not apply outside the land”. The reason the soul descends to the earth is because the earth is the arena in which the commandments can be fulfilled. For the Divine purpose of creation is that the infinite light of G-d should be drawn down within the finite space, the “boundaries”, of creation. 

If the descent into the world allows the soul to fulfill the Divine purpose, and thus elevate itself to even greater heights, why does the verse use the term “fall”, which implies descent? 

Rashi offers two interpretations. 

The first is that the term “fall” refers to the lottery that is cast in order to divide the land among the tribes. The mystical interpretation of the lot is as follows: when the soul is in heaven it experiences the Divine reality and is therefore filled with love and awe to the creator. Its relationship with G-d is based on its understanding and experience of God's greatness. When the soul descends, it loses its Divine awareness. The love and awe are no longer felt naturally. Instead, the soul reaches the level of “lottery”. A lottery is not decided based on logic; the lottery represents a level deeper than logic. While in heaven the soul’s relationship with G-d was conditioned on its understanding, on this earth the soul, lacking the understanding and awareness, experiences an even deeper level of connection. The unconditional bond. The lottery. 

Rashi’s second interpretation as to why the Torah uses the term “fall” is: “ the Holy One, blessed is He, cast down from Heaven the celestial ministers of the seven nations, and shackled them before Moshe.” When the soul responds to the descent into this world, to the “fall” from its heavenly state, by cultivating the “lot”, the unconditional bond to G-d, then G-d removes all obstacles that stand in the way of  man’s service. 

(Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe, Lekutei Sichos Masei vol. 13 sicha 2)



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)  

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