Blog - Torah Insights

Is Love Blinding? - Balak


Is Love Blinding? 

Do you see the faults of the people You Love? 

People fall in love, and when they do, they are blind to the faults of their beloved. They are oblivious even to faults that seem obvious to others. Such is the intoxicating power of exhilarating love.

Inevitably, however, the lovers awake to reality. They learn that, spoiler alert, the person they love is human and, like the rest of us, is imperfect. How do they respond then? Some resent the faults; some learn to make peace with them; others feel betrayed, deceived by the blinding love. 

In this week's Parsha, Billam, the greatest gentile prophet who was hired to curse the Jews, tries to remind G-d of the faults of his beloved Jewish people; alas, he fails completely. In his frustration, he declares:   

He {G-d} does not look at evil in Jacob, and has seen no perversity in Israel; the Lord, his God, is with him, and he has the King's friendship. (Numbers 23:21)

What is the meaning of "He does not look at evil in Jacob?" There are three interpretations of the verse, each representing a deeper level of love. 

Rashi begins by directing it to the Targum Onkolos's Aramaic translation of the Torah. According to Onkelos, it is absurd to think that G-d sees no iniquity in Jacob; after all, the Torah is full of episodes where the Jewish people are less than perfect. Instead, Onkelos explains that the verse refers to the most severe sin, the sin of idol worship.

He does not look at evil in Jacob: According to the Targum {Onkelos it means: I have looked. There are no idol worshippers in Jacob}.

According to Onkelos, G-d certainly sees the faults of the Jewish people, yet he can still love us because we are free of idol worship, the severest of all sins.

Rashi, however, introduces a second interpretation, a deeper level of love, which he refers to as "beautiful":


Another interpretation: Its literal meaning can be expounded beautifully. The Holy One, blessed is He, does not look at evil in Jacob. When they transgress His word, He does not deal punctiliously with them to scrutinize their wicked deeds and their iniquity in violation of His law. 

According to the second interpretation, we, of course, possess faults, yet G-d chooses to not focus on them. No one is perfect, but when people love each other they focus on each other's positive qualities and choose not to direct their attention toward the negative qualities. 

And finally, we reach the deepest level of love where there is no need to look away from any part of the other person. As the Rebbe explained:

He does not look at evil in Jacob: The reason G-d does not look at the evil in Jacob is because He looks at the Jew as having already fulfilled his potential to reorient the animal concerns of his consciousness (his animal "soul") toward Divinity. He thus transforms the animal soul into a positive force in his Jewish life, harnessing its raw power to pursue its interests in the service of his higher, Divine consciousness (his "Divine soul"). 

(Adapted from the Rebbe by the Kehot Chumash)

The third level of love is deep enough to allow us to view every aspect of the other person through the lens of love. For when we look at the other person's fault, we see not the current incarnation of the fault but rather the potential of the deeper connection and positive growth that can emerge from it. 

When The Jewish People Began to Sing On Their Own - חוקת


When The Jewish People Began to Sing On Their Own

At first glance, it is a very sad story. 

This week's Torah portion is a collection of somber episodes, among them the passing of Miriam and Aaron, who, together with Moses, led the Jewish people with love and dedication for more than forty years. It seems that even after an entire generation had passed, they were back to square one; once again, the Jewish people complained about the lack of water, questioning why Moses and Aaron led them out of Egypt. And, in a heartbreaking scene, as a result of Moses and Aaron striking the rock instead of speaking to it, it was decreed that Moses and Aaron would not lead the Jewish people into the promised land. 

Yet, when we take a more careful look, we can see that in many ways, this week's portion alludes to the profound success of Moses' mission. We look at the Jewish people in this week's portion the way parents often look at their teenage children who superficially seem utterly uninterested in the perspective and values of their parents, yet, in truth, under the rebellious spirit, the children are listening. The influence of their parents is germinating and taking root, and in time, will emerge and flourish. Specifically in this week's portion, we notice that the Jewish people have internalized Moses' influence. 

Toward the end of the portion, we read of the messengers dispatched to Sichon, the Emorite king, requesting permission to pass through his land. The verse states: 

​​Israel sent messengers to Sihon the king of the Amorites, saying: (Numbers 21:21) 

Rashi points out, that in the book of Deuteronomy, when Moses retells this story, Moses ascribes the sending of the messengers, not to Israel but to himself:

Israel sent messengers: Elsewhere, the sending [of messengers] is ascribed to Moses, as it says, "So I sent messengers from the desert of Kedemoth" (Deut. 2:26)... These verses supplement each other; one holds back [information by not informing us who authorized the sending of the messengers] and the other reveals [that Moses sent them]. Moses is Israel, and Israel is Moses. 

After all these years of complaints, of tension between Moses' effort to raise the people to a higher vision and consciousness and the Jewish people's fear, insecurity, lack of faith, and pettiness, we read these powerful words. The visions are aligned, the teachings have been internalized, "Moses is Israel and Israel is Moses". 

Forty years earlier, when the Jewish people crossed the sea, Moses led the Jewish people in the song of the sea: 

Then Moses and the children of Israel sang this song to the Lord, and they spoke, saying, I will sing to the Lord, for very exalted is He; a horse and its rider He cast into the sea. (Exodus 15:1)

The Talmud explains that the verse "Moses and the children of Israel" implies that Moses sang the words, and the Jewish people repeated the words Moses spoke. 

Forty years later, in our Parsha, the Jews once again sang a song of praise about water. They sang the song of the well: 

Then Israel sang this song: "'Ascend, O well,' sing to it! (21:17)

This time, however, the verse does not mention Moses. This time, the people did not repeat the words Moses was saying. By this time, Moses had taught them to sing on their own. 

Can Anyone Be a Levite? The Unconventional Takeaway from the Korach Story - קרח

Can Anyone Be a Levite? The Unconventional Takeaway From the Korach Story

The rebellion erupted. 

Korach, a member of the tribe of Levi, leads a rebellion against Moses and Aaron's leadership. "the entire congregation are all holy, and the Lord is in their midst", they proclaimed, "So why", says Korach, "do you raise yourselves above the Lord's assembly?"

In the aftermath of the rebellion's tragic results, G-d reiterates the unique status and position of the priests and the Levites, who are appointed to perform the service in the temple and who, therefore do not receive a portion within the land of Israel, and rely instead on the produce gifted to them by the Israelites. The Torah states that G-d tells the Levite that he will not receive a portion in the land of Israel, instead: 

"I am your inheritance and portion among the children of Israel." (Numbers 17:20)

Quoting this verse, Maimonides states what seems to be the precise opposite of the message of this week's Torah portion and the exact opposite of the original meaning of the verse. Maimonides states that not only the tribe of Levi but any person can attain this level of holiness, concerning whom G-d states, "I am your inheritance". 

Maimonides describes the unique position of the tribe of Levi: 

Why did the Levites not receive a portion in the inheritance of Eretz Yisrael and in the spoils of war like their brethren? Because they were set aside to serve God and minister unto Him and to instruct people at large in His just paths and righteous judgments, as [Deuteronomy 33:10] states: "They will teach Your judgments to Jacob and Your Torah to Israel." Therefore they were set apart from the ways of the world. They do not wage war like the remainder of the Jewish people, nor do they receive an inheritance, nor do they acquire for themselves through their physical power. Instead, they are God's legion, as [ibid.:11]: states: "God has blessed His legion" and He provides for them, as [Numbers 18:20] states: "I am your portion and your inheritance."

Maimonides then continues to explain that, in fact, any person can attain the same degree of holiness: 

Not the tribe of Levi alone, but rather any one of the inhabitants of the world whose spirit generously motivates him and he understands with his wisdom to set himself aside and stand before G-d to serve Him and minister to Him and to know G-d, proceeding justly as G-d made him, removing from his neck the yoke of the many reckonings which people seek, he is sanctified as holy of holies. God will be His portion and heritage forever and will provide what is sufficient for him in this world like He provides for the priests and the Levites. And thus David declared : "God is the lot of my portion; You are my cup, You support my lot."

While the conventional understanding is that the story's objective is to discourage an attempt to be like Korach and demand additional spiritual holiness, according to Maimonides, the precise opposite is true. The takeaway of the story is that anybody can achieve the holiness of a Levite and even a high priest, provided they do not follow the model of Korach,, who rebelled against Aaron in order to achieve the status of priesthood in the literal sense, but rather "any one of the inhabitants of the world" can attain the status of a Levite and Priest, by learning from Aaron's example and achieving the devotion and holiness of the Priest in the spiritual sense, by sharing the Torah wisdom and inspiration with others.

In 1990, the Rebbe presented this interpretation of Maimonides and suggested what, perhaps, captures the Rebbe's essential and eternal message for each of us. Each person, said the Rebbe, should follow this teaching of Maimonides and see himself or herself as a Levite. Each and every person can share the wisdom of the Torah, by increasing their own learning and then sharing with others. Each and every person should establish a formal or informal Torah class and teach the Torah's Divine wisdom to the people in their circle of influence. 

[in this video clip, esteemed philanthropist Mr. Sami Rohr of blessed memory, father of our dear friend and member of Chabad of Greenwich Mr. George Rohr, headed the Rebbe’s call and then visited the Rebbe to offer thanks for encouraging him to teach a Torah class to others in his community.]

 As we approach the Rebbe's thirtieth Yahrtzeit, this Monday night, the Third of Tamuz, let us internalize the Rebbe's inspiration and calling. Each of us is a Levite. Each of us is responsible for building a figurative temple and home for G-d in our surroundings, ultimately transforming the entire earth into a dwelling place for the Divine presence with the coming of Moshiach. 


Present Within Nature - שלח

Present Within Nature 

The episode of the biblical spies is a dramatic and tragic story. The spies dispatched to scout the land of Israel returned to the Jewish people in the desert and convinced them that they would be unable to conquer the land. The subsequent complaints led to G-d’s decree that the entire generation would perish in the desert and only their children would merit to enter the promised land.  

We cannot read the story without addressing the obvious question: how is it possible that the very people who experienced the miracles of the exodus from Egypt, the splitting of the sea, and the journey through the desert, would deny G-d’s ability to conquer the land? 

The Torah describes their claim: 

But the men who went up with him said, "We are unable to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we. (Numbers 13:31)

Rashi explained that the word translates as “(stronger) than we”, in fact, means “(stronger) than He”, stronger than G-d himself:  

for they are stronger than we: Hebrew מִמֶּנּוּ, [which may also be interpreted as, they are stronger than he.] They said this in reference to the most High , as it were, [as if to say that the people are stronger than He.

It seems impossible that the spies and their audience would claim that the inhabitants of Canaan were more powerful than G-d! 

The Talmud (Sotah 35a) explains their claim. They said: ”Even the Homeowner, , is unable to remove His vessels from there, as it were.” They acknowledged that G-d is the “homeowner”, G-d is the creator and he can shatter the laws of nature, probabilities and statistics. Yet, they argued, the conquest of the land, which they were expected to achieve through a natural battle using military might and tactics, is different. Nature, they argued, is “His vessels”. While G-d can suspend the laws of nature when he chooses to, He values the laws of nature and allows them to play out in a natural way. The miracles of the exodus, therefore, are necessary for the chances of their success in a natural war. 

When Moses prays for forgiveness for the sin of the spies, he evokes not the name Hashem, which describes G-d’s compassion, revelation, expression, but rather, surprisingly, the name A-do-nai which is the name describing G-d’s disciple and power of concealment. Moses says: “Now, please, let the strength of the A-do-nai be increased.” Moses understood that the mistake of the spies was that they misunderstood the quality of G-d expressed by the name A-do-nai. They understood that G-d can express his infinite might by performing miracles, but they did not understand that G-d is present within the limited, finite, laws of nature which He created. Moses pleads that the name A-do-nai be strengthened. That the Jewish people recognize and perceive that presence and salvation of G-d present not only in the open revealed miracles but also in the daily natural events in our lives. 

Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe, Likkutei Sichos 18 Shelach 4      


Until The Flame Will Rise By Itself - בהעלותך

Until The Flame Will Rise By Itself 

"When you raise". What a beautiful name for a Parsha. Reading the opening verses of the Parsha, however, it is hard to see what exactly is being raised. The Torah states: 

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to Aaron and say to him: "When you raise the lamps, the seven lamps shall cast their light toward the face of the menorah." (Numbers 8:2)

The opening commandment is to light the candles of the Menorah; why, then, does the Torah employ the verb "when you raise", instead of the straightforward "when you ignite"? Rashi explains that "when you raise", refers to the flame which rises upward, and the verse indicates that the priest who lights the candles must ensure that the wick takes hold of the flame to the extent that "the flame rises by itself": 

When you light: Hebrew בְּהַעֲלֹתְךָ, lit., when you cause to ascend. Since the flame rises, Scripture describes kindling in terms of ascending. He is required to kindle the lamp until the flame rises by itself.

In his last talk on this Parsha, the Rebbe focused on the spiritual message of three of the words in Rashi's commentary: "the flame", "rises", "by itself".  

The flame: A person, like a candle, possesses the ingredients for light: a vessel, a wick, and oil. G-d provides us with the personality, skill and talent we need to bring light to our surroundings. But we alone can ignite the flame. We alone can create the warmth and the passion that will illuminate our own life and the lives of those around us.

Rises: The command "raise the lamps" is a continuous calling. We must continuously strive to grow and ascend. We must not be satisfied with the light we have already generated. "Raise the lamps" is the Torah's calling to continuously seek to intensify our commitment and to raise ourselves to ever greater heights, thereby increasing the potency and the extent of the light we produce.  

By itself: we must provide encouragement, inspiration, and light to the people around us until they internalize the inspiration and they too begin to shine on their own. This represents Judaism's insistence on a positive and optimistic view of reality. The insistence that ultimately, the Divine light will become internalized within ourselves, within the people in our circle of influence, and within the reality of the entire world. Ultimately, the world itself will "raise a flame by itself". The struggle to bring light to the world will ultimately transform the nature of the world itself, and the physical reality will itself be infused with holiness and light.  

Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe, Behhaloscha 5751 (1991)


Count or Raise? - במדבר


Count or Raise? 

Translation is a tricky business. Very often, when a word is translated to another language, some of its cultural, philosophical, and spiritual connotations can be lost. 

One example would be the first commandment of the Book of Numbers, when G-d commands Moses and Aaron to count the Jewish people. The verse states: 

Take the sum of all the congregation of the children of Israel, by families following their fathers' houses; a head count of every male according to the number of their names. (Numbers 1:2)

The literal translation of the Hebrew word for "take the sum" {"Seu Et Rosh"}, is "lift up the head". Biblical Hebrew has multiple words for counting, such as "Lispor" or "Lifkod", so why does the Torah use the unusual term "lift up the head" instead of a more direct word for counting? 

The great 17th-century sage and Kabbalist known as the Holy Shalah explains that the purpose of the census was to "raise the head", to raise and elevate the importance of each individual. The sages explain that this census was associated with the temple's construction in the desert, "when He came to cause His Divine Presence to rest among them, He counted them". The Torah's message to each and every individual is that bringing G-dliness into this world, transforming the world into a home for the Divine presence, is dependent on every individual. Every individual must "raise up his head" and realize that the purpose of creation is in his or her own hands. 

As the Talmud teaches and codified by Maimonides: 

A person should always look at himself as equally balanced between merit and sin and the world as equally balanced between merit and sin… if he performs one mitzvah, he tips his balance and that of the entire world to the side of merit and brings deliverance and salvation to himself and others.

Discovering the Romance - בחוקותי

Discovering the Romance 

What is a marriage? Is it a contract of shared commitments and responsibilities or is it an expression of love and romance? 

The final portion of the book of Leviticus reads like a legal contract laying out the covenant between G-d and the Jewish people. If we follow the commandments of the Torah, then God will provide for us and bless us:

If you follow My statutes and observe My commandments and perform them, I will give your rains in their time, the Land will yield its produce, and the tree of the field will give forth its fruit. (Leviticus 26:3-4)

However, if we choose to violate the contract and abandon the Torah, we will be struck by terrible calamities, outlined in a painfully detailed description.

Yet the Kabbalists look at this Parsha, and they see the poetry, the love, and the romance hidden between the lines of the formal contract. Toward the end of the rebuke, the verse states despite the terrible rebuke, G-d will not annihilate his people: 

But despite all this, while they are in the land of their enemies, I will not despise them nor will I abhor them to annihilate them, thereby breaking My covenant that is with them, for I am the Lord their God. (Leviticus 26:44)

The Zohar focuses on the word "annihilate", "Lichalotam", and points out that the way the word is written in Torah is strikingly similar to the word bride, "Kallah". Read this way, the verse is saying that because the Jewish people are G-d's bride, not only will they survive, which is a given, but "I will not despise them nor will I abhor them"; the bride is always beautiful and beloved to G-d despite all external circumstances. The Zohar offers a beautiful parable: 

This is like a man who loves a woman who lives in a market of tanners , were she not there, he would never have entered there. Since she is there, seems to him like a market of spice merchants, where there are all the best odors in the world. (Zohar, Bechukotai 115b)

In the Talmud, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai teaches that the Divine presence is with the Jewish people in all their exiles: 

It is taught in a baraita: Rabbi Shimon ben Yoḥai says: Come and see how beloved the Jewish people are before the Holy One, Blessed be He. As every place they were exiled, the Divine Presence went with them. (Talmud Megillah 29a)

In this passage in the Zohar, Rabbi Shimon's son, Rabbi Elazar, says something far more profound. Not only is G-d with His people, but because of His profound love, He experiences only the pleasurable fragrances of the spice market. Indeed, the entire purpose of the exile is for the Jewish people to transform the world from a space of a figurative "tanners market" to a market of fragrant spices.  

Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe, Toras Menachem Tiferes Levi Yitzchok, Bechukosai


Are we Spiraling out of Control? - בהר


Are we Spiraling out of Control? 

The Torah Portion of Behar begins and ends with opposite extremes. It begins with the mention of Mount Sinai: “And the Lord spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai”, then continues to describe the commandments of the sabbatical and jubilee years, which represent a time of peace and serenity, when the land is at rest, and liberty is proclaimed throughout the land. 

However, very quickly, the Torah turns to a series of laws, which, as the sages noted, represent a spiral descent into poverty and servitude.

Rashi, quoting the sages of the Talmud, explains that the order of the portions represents the admonishment against ignoring the laws of the sabbatical year, which will, in turn, bring about financial pressure and destitution.   

The passages {in this whole Portion} are written in a meaningful order: At first, Scripture admonishes us to observe Shemittah; then, if one covets money and becomes suspect of {unlawfully doing business with produce of} Shemittah, he will eventually {become destitute and} have to sell his personal belongings therefore, Scripture juxtaposes to it, “And when you make a sale”. If he still does not repent, he will eventually have to sell his inheritance (25:25). If he even then does not repent, he will eventually have to sell his home, and if even then, he does not repent, he will eventually have to borrow money with interest. Now, the later the scenario in this passage, the more severe it is; if he still does not repent, he will eventually have to sell himself {to his fellow Jew as a servant}; and if he has still not repented, not enough that he had to be sold to his fellow Jew - but he will {be forced to sell himself} even to a non-Jew. (Rash, Leviticus 26:1) 

The Portion begins with the mention of Sinai, the place where we received the Torah, in order to inform us of the purpose of the Torah which was given at Sinai. The ultimate goal of the Torah is to guide a person not so that he remain in a figurative desert, secluded from the temptations and pressures of civilization, but rather, the purpose of the Torah is to guide a person who will affect the world and create a home for G-d within the most mundane space. 

The purpose of the Torah is to apply Divine wisdom, holiness, and compassion, specifically within the natural world, which, left to its own devices, can deteriorate into a place of pain and difficulty. The purpose of Sinai is to empower us to overcome the obstacles in our path and to transform the natural world into a place of holiness and kindness.

This message is captured by the maxim of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, whose day of passing we celebrate on Lag Baomer, as quoted in the Ethics of our Fathers: 

Rabbi Shimon would say: There are three crowns—the crown of Torah, the crown of priesthood and the crown of sovereignty—but the crown of good name surmounts them all. (Ethics of our Fathers, 4:13)

Greater than the crowns of Torah, priesthood, and Kingship, is the crown of a good name, which is acquired as a result of the performance of good deeds. Because, indeed, the purpose of the crown of Torah is to impact and transform the natural word. 

Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe, Lekkutei Sichos, 17 Behar - Lag-Baomer 


Why the Number Seven? - אמור

Why the Number Seven?

The second half of this week’s Parsha, which discusses the holidays, emphasizes the number seven. Every seventh day is the Shabbat; we count seven weeks between Passover and Shavuot; the seventh month is the month with the most holidays; the Torah lists seven days of holiday {in the land of Israel} when performing labor is prohibited [the first and final day of Passover and Sukkot, one day of shavuot, Rosh Hashanah, and Yom Kippur].
The emphasis on the number seven explains why, immediately after the discussion of the holidays, the Torah chooses to discuss specific services in the temple, the Menorah:
Command the children of Israel, and they shall take to you pure olive oil, crushed for lighting, to kindle the lamps continually… Upon the pure Menorah, he shall set up the lamps, before the Lord, continually. (Leviticus 24:2-4)
And the showbread: 
And you place them in two stacks, six in each stack, upon the pure table, before the Lord. (ibid. 24:6)
The Ohr Hachayim explains that both the Menorah and the showbread were mentioned here, because they both represent the number seven, the Menorah had seven candles, and the six stacks of showbread plus the table upon which they were placed equal seven. 
But what is the significance of the number seven, which is emphasized so strongly in our Parsha?
The Maharal of Prague, explains that the number six represents physical phenomena, because physical matter contains six boundaries, one on each of the six directions: up, down, east, west, north, and south. The number seven, by contrast, represents the inner spiritual energy at the core of physical existence.

In the words of the Maharal: 
It is known that the number seven corresponds to the six extremities (up, down, north, west, south and east) and the center - which is called the Holy Chamber - that is between them. And it is known that the six extremities relate the most to the material. For they surely have distance; and distance is connected to the material. Whereas the middle does not have distance at all, as distance is not applicable to the middle. And that is why [the center] relates to that which is immaterial. (Derech Chaim, 5:15)
The number seven, then, represents the ability to see beyond the physical. It represents the ability to tap into the inner core of life, to connect to the spark of G-d within the creation, and relate not only to its physical properties but to its inner purpose and inner soul. 




Holiness is in the Details - קדושים

Holiness is in the Details 

The opening statement in this week's Parsha is the commandment to be holy: 

Speak to the entire congregation of the children of Israel, and say to them, You shall be holy, for I, the Lord, your God, am holy. (19:2)

But what does it mean to be holy, and how is holiness achieved? 

After reading the first 19 chapters of Leviticus, we might think that holiness is associated with priests, offerings in the temple, Yom Kippur, or the high priest's entrance into the holy of holies. This week's Parsha, named "Kedoshim" which means "holy", gives us a completely different perspective. This Parsha is addressed not to the priests but to the "entire congregation of the children of Israel", and the arena for this portion's commandments is not the holy temple but rather  daily life: farming, business, and interactions between people: "When you reap the harvest of your land", "The hired worker's wage shall not remain with you overnight" "You shall commit no injustice in judgment", When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not taunt him", "You shall have true scales, true weights". 

In Judaism, holiness begins with separating from the mundane and connecting to the spiritual and transcendent, as expressed in the first half of the book of Leviticus, yet the ultimate meaning of holiness is infusing the daily moments of life with morality and a connection to G-d, as expressed in elaborate detail in this week's Parsha. For ultimately, holiness is not the escape from the physical world but rather its sanctification. 

But how can we attain holiness not only in the temple but also in the field? Not only during the study of Torah but also while trading in the market? The verse continues: "for I, the Lord, your God, am holy". God is not limited to the definitions of time and space, and therefore is not confined to any specific time and place. Our task is to access and connect to G-d’s presence in every area of life, infusing the mundane with meaning and holiness. 

Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe, 26 Nisan, 1986 


The Challenges of Spiritual Growth - אחרי

The Challenges of Spiritual Growth: Aspiration, Frustration, Purity 

Striving for spiritual growth is not without its challenges. Attempting to grow can lead to frustration. When a person is satisfied with their spiritual state, they may be stuck in their current condition, but they will not be exposed to disappointment. By contrast, the drive to advance, especially spiritually, may lead to moments of inspiration, enthusiasm, and transcendence, but also to inevitable frustration, disappointment, failure, and setback. 

The Book of Leviticus begins with the laws of offerings, which are an expression of the innate desire of the soul to draw closer to G-d. The book then turns to discuss the laws of purity and impurity, kosher and non-kosher, leprosy on the skin, garments, and home. The person seeking to come close to holiness will inevitably be challenged to overcome the impurity of negativity in this world. He or she will realize that the human being is imperfect, that not every day can one feel inspired and uplifted, and that a person will inevitably feel uninspired and disconnected. The Torah, therefore, sets out the laws of impurity and purity, kosher and non-kosher, to empower the Jew to navigate and ultimately refine a world that contains unholiness and impurity. 

And then, we reach this week’s Parsha, which describes the order of the service of Yom Kippur, the day of atonement. The Torah tells us that even though, while navigating the challenges of life, a person may experience the pain of acting inconsistently with what they know to be the right and moral thing, nevertheless atonement is possible: 

For on this day He shall effect atonement for you to cleanse you. Before the Lord, you shall be cleansed from all your sins. (Leviticus 16:30) 

Yom Kippur teaches that negative experiences and actions do not define us. On Yom Kippur, our inner core is revealed, allowing the external negativity to drift away.

Based on the teachings of the rebbe, Likkutei Sichos 27, Acharei 1

Who Comes to Whom? - מצורע

Who Comes to Whom? 

Our Parsha begins with the laws of the purification of the Metzora, who was sent outside the camp due to the severity of his ritual impurity. The Parsha begins to describe the process of purification:  

And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, This shall be the law of the person afflicted with Tzara'ath, on the day of his cleansing: He shall be brought to the Kohen .

The verse states, "He shall be brought to the kohen", which implies that the person seeking purification will come to the Kohen, yet the following verse states the opposite: 

The Kohen shall go outside the camp, and the Kohen shall look, and behold, the lesion of tzara'ath has healed in the afflicted person.

Which one is it? Does the person seeking purification go to the Kohen or does the Kohen "go outside the camp" to meet the person? 

The technical interpretation is that both are correct. The person would come to the entrance of the city, and the Kohen would exit the city to greet the person. The mystics, however, explain that there is a deep message that can be gleaned from these verses. The Kabbalah explains that in the relationship between the creator and creation, there is "an awakening from above" and an "awakening from below". At times, a person experiences inspiration, creativity, and enthusiasm as a gift from above without any effort on his part. Other times, the person "awakens from below"; he invests continuous effort to elevate and inspire himself. 

The Zohar explains that a person is not merely a passive recipient of the spiritual energy that descends from above; but rather, he is an active participant in the process. "An awakening from below creates an awakening from above". When a person awakens himself to the best of his ability, that awakens the Divine energy to bestow additional "awakening from above", far more than the person could have achieved on their own. 

Back to our Parsha. "He shall be brought to the Kohen" represents the person inspiring himself to improve and grow. Doing so, generating the "awakening form below" will elicit the "awakening from above", "the kohen" representing the gift from above, "shall go outside the camp" to reach the person. 

To create healing, purity, and inspiration in our lives, we should take the first step by creating the desire and plan for growth; G-d will then bless our efforts and infuse us with even greater energy and blessing. 

Adapted from the Shem Mishmuel 


Healing From Within - תזריע


Healing From Within 

Of all the forms of ritual impurity discussed in the Torah, the ritual impurity of the Tzaarat {skin discoloration}, is, in some ways, the most severe. The Torah states: 

All the days the lesion is upon him, he shall remain unclean. He is unclean; he shall dwell isolated; his dwelling shall be outside the camp. (Leviticus 13:46)

Rashi clarifies that not only must the Metzora {person afflicted with Tzaraat} be separated from people who are ritually pure, but he must also dwell in complete isolation, separate even from other people who are ritually impure: 

He shall dwell isolated: [meaning] that other ritually impure people shall not abide with him.

Our sages taught that the Tzaarat affliction was a result of Lashin hara {negative speech, gossip}, based on that Rashi continuous to explain why the Metzora must dwell alone:

Our Sages said: "Why is he different from other ritually impure people, that he must remain isolated? Since, with his slander, he caused a separation {a rift} between man and wife or between man and his fellow, he too, shall be separated {from society}".

From a deeper perspective, we can suggest that dwelling in isolation is not merely a consequence of the negative speech, but rather it is an important step to healing the Metzora. The sages identify two causes for the Tzaarat: (1) gossip and (2) arrogance. While they seem to be two unrelated deficiencies, the reality is that they both stem from the same cause: a person's lack of self-esteem and his inability to be in touch with his internal core, which is the source of his own infinite value. When a person does not feel his inherent value, he will constantly need validation and affirmation from others. The person will then be inclined to be haughty and arrogant in order to receive recognition from others and will engage in negative speech in order to tear down those whom he perceives will outshine and outperform him. 

The cure to both gossip and arrogance is for a person to turn inward. Not to outsource their sense of value and make it dependent on recognition from others but rather to find an internal anchor within his own spiritual core. The healing, therefore, is to be alone, to realize that one must rely on one's own self for physical survival, and, just as importantly, for mental and emotional survival, allowing a person to tap into his infinite value stemming from the spark of G-d within each of us, only then can a person reintegrate with family and friends and create healthy lasting relationships. 

Sons of Aaron Vs. Rabbi Akiva - שמיני


Sons of Aaron Vs. Rabbi Akiva 

It was one of the happiest days in Jewish history. After many months of construction and seven days of inauguration, the cloud rested on the tabernacle on the eighth day, symbolizing the Divine presence resting amidst the Jewish people.

It was also a day when tragedy struck. As the Torah relates: 

And Aaron's sons, Nadab and Abihu, each took his pan, put fire in them, and placed incense upon it, and they brought before the Lord foreign fire, which He had not commanded them. And fire went forth from before the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord. (Leviticus 10:1-2)

Drawing too close to G-d, what the kabbalah calls "running", can be dangerous. 

The Talmud relates that four great Talmudic sages "entered the orchard", a metaphor for delving into the most mystical secrets of the Torah, only one of them emerged safely:  

Four entered the orchard: Ben Azzai peeked and was hurt… Ben Zoma peeked and died… Aḥer peeked and cut saplings {became a heretic}… Rabbi Akiva entered in peace and left in peace. (Jerusalem Talmud, Chagigah 2b)

What was Rabbi Akiva's secret to not only "run", to experience the intense desire and yearning to cleave to G-d, but also to "return", to turn back to earth to sanctify the mundane experiences of life? 

Regarding the other rabbis, the Talmud tells us only how they emerged from the "orchard"; yet regarding Rabbi Akiva, the Talmud adds a detail that sheds light on how Rabbi Akiva succeeded where the others failed. Rabbi Akiva not only "emerged in peace" but also "entered in peace". Rabbi Akiva's attitude and motivation to "running" was not his own personal desire to connect, which would make it difficult to "return" to a healthy life, but rather it was motivated by a devotion to the will of G-d, which is to create "peace" and bridge the gap between heaven and earth. 

It would be a mistake to assume that the lesson of the story of the sons of Aaron is that we should not seek to "run" - that we should not cultivate the yearning and desire to transcend and escape the mundane. Instead, the message is that" running" must not be motivated by one's personal desire, for then the person can become self-centered and disconnected from family, friends, and the task of impacting the world. Instead, the story of the sons of Aaron teaches us that the yearning for transcendence must be for the sake of fulfilling the will of G-d. The yearning must be predicated upon, and therefore consistent with, the Divine desire that we "run" and "return", that we enter the orchard in peace in order to emerge in peace. 

Would You Donate Some Wood? - ויקרא


Would You Donate Some Wood? 

The entire first portion of the third book of the Torah, Vayikra, is dedicated to the laws of the various offerings in the temple: elevation offerings, meal offerings, peace offerings, and sin and guilt offerings. There is one offering that, while not mentioned explicitly in the Torah, was the cause for a great holiday for various Jewish families. 

The Talmud explains that in a time of shortage, some families donated wood for the fire on the Altar. The times of those donations became holidays for those families who would then donate wood on those days in subsequent years:  

When the people of the exile ascended to Jerusalem in the beginning of the Second Temple period, they did not find enough wood in the Temple chamber for the needs of the altar. And these families arose and donated from their own wood to the Temple. And the prophets among them stipulated as follows, that even if the entire chamber were full of wood, the descendants of these families would donate wood from their own property on these specific days, as it is stated: “And we cast lots, the priests, the Levites and the people, for the wood offering, to bring it into the house of our God, according to our fathers’ houses, at appointed times year by year, to burn upon the altar of the Lord our God, as it is written in the Torah” (Nehemiah 10:35). Although these donations were not always necessary, it was established that all generations would observe these days. (Talmud, Taanit 28a)

While the wood offerings were not mentioned explicitly in the Torah, they caused a great holiday because, in some ways, they were even more profound than the offerings mentioned explicitly in the Torah. Every offering represents the effort to draw one specific aspect, dimension, or experience of self closer to G-d. Yet the wood, to fuel the fire of the Altar, present in all offerings, represents the general longing and desire to transcend and connect to G-d, expressed by abandoning the orientation toward self and focusing entirely on what is needed. Thus, the person donates not a specific offering, which is a Mitzvah, giving him the satisfaction that he is the one performing the will of G-d, but rather he donates the wood which is merely an accessory, allowing others to bring their offerings. 

Joy is a by-product of transcending self. Therefore, the holidays were established specifically to celebrate the wood, where the emphasis was not on an individual’s own spiritual growth, but rather on his enabling others to reconnect and reunite with G-d.

Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe, Likkutei Sichos 22 Vayikra 2


Looking for older posts? See the sidebar for the Archive.