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Blog - Torah Insights

Legal Mechanism of the Jubilee - בהר

 

Legal Mechanism of the Jubilee  


In Biblical times, when all twelve tribes of Israel resided in the land of Israel, the commandment of the Jubilee year was in place. Every fiftieth year, all indentured servants were set free, and all land which was sold during the previous forty nine years would revert back to its original owner. As the Torah states: 


And you shall sanctify the fiftieth year, and proclaim freedom [for slaves] throughout the land for all who live on it. It shall be a Jubilee for you, and you shall return, each man to his property, and you shall return, each man to his family. 

The land shall not be sold permanently, for the land belongs to Me, for you are strangers and [temporary] residents with Me. (Leviticus 25:10,23)


There are two possible ways to define the precise mechanism by which the Jubilee takes effect and causes all land to revert to the original seller. The first possibility is that it is, in the language of the Talmud, “a release of the King {a Divine decree}.” meaning that the sale in which the two parties engage in is a permanent sale, yet the Divine decree of the Jubilee intervenes and nullifies the sale. The second possibility is that the Jubilee is affected by the buyer and seller themselves. As a result of the commandment, the unspoken understanding of both parties is that the sale is a temporary transaction, which lasts only until the fiftieth  year. 


[There are practical implications between these two options. One interesting application was presented by the great twentieth century sage, the Ragatchover Gaon. Assuming the land was sold when the commandment of the jubilee was in effect, but by the time the fiftieth year came about the jubilee was no longer in effect (because the exile of the ten tribes nullified the practical application of the Jubilee).  According to the first perspective, the Divine commandment would only undo a complete and final sale in the event that the Jubilee year was in effect. In a case that the Jubilee year was no longer in effect, however, the Divine decree would not nullify the sale, and the land would remain in the possession of the buyer. According to the second opinion, however, the land would revert back to the seller, although the Jubilee was no longer in effect. Because at the time of the sale, the sale was only intended to be temporary, until year fifty.]


Just like every law of the Torah, the Jubilee applies within the spiritual service of every Jew. The equivalent of the jubilee in the soul of man is the freedom from inner bondage. The liberation from inner tension and negativity. The two possible mechanisms for the Jubilee to take effect represent two paths to achieve inner freedom. The first argues that inner liberation can come only as a gift from above. The second argues that the mechanism of the jubilee is man-made. And therefore, the inner freedom of the jubilee can be achieved through one's own efforts.


While in the legal realm only one of these perspectives are correct, in the spiritual realm both perspectives are true. The Jew is required to attain the freedom that he can achieve by his own efforts. When he does so, G-d bestows an even greater sense of freedom, that is a gift from on high.


Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe, 12 Tamuz 5737


Your Seven Soul Powers - Emor

Your Seven Soul Powers


The Torah commands us to count seven weeks from the second day of Passover until the "holiday of weeks," which celebrates the giving of the Torah. As we read in this week's portion: 


And you shall count for yourselves, from the morrow of the rest day from the day you bring the omer as a wave offering seven weeks; they shall be complete. (Leviticus 23:15)


The Kabbalists explain that the Hebrew word for counting, "Usefartem, is related to the word "sefirah," which means "soul powers," as well as "Sapirut," which means shining. The counting of the seven weeks is the time when we introspect and refine our seven emotional soul powers, each of which includes all seven, leading to forty-nine specific emotions. Each week we focus on one of the seven soul powers, and each day of the week we focus on one of the seven expressions of that general soul power. 


Below is a short description of each of our seven soul powers. 


1. Chesed - Loving Kindness 


Chesed is the soul's ability and desire to flow outward. To share, express, and give. 


Within G-d, the sefirah of Chesed is the force that motivates creation. The desire to express Himself and be benevolent toward the creation. 


Chesed within the human soul is the desire to love, which is the desire to become one with someone or something outside of the self. The numerical value of the Hebrew word for love, "Ahava," is 13, the same as the numerical value for the Hebrew word for one, "Echod." 


2. Gevurah - Strength, Discipline, Restriction


Gevurah is strength and discipline, which is the opposite extreme of love. If loving kindness sees only the good and wants to give without any restriction, Gevurah, restricts the desire to give and wants to give only to those who are deserving and only to the extent that they are deserving. If the attribute of Chesed wants one to give unconditionally to one's child, the attribute of Gevurah wants the child to earn in order to receive. 


Chesed and Gevurah, love and restriction are two wings that every relationship requires. Love is the desire to be one, yet restriction allows us to respect another person's space, perspective, and needs. If one wants to become one with another person, he may seek to impose his will and perspective upon the other person. The restriction allows one to pull back and respect the other’s right to their own will and perspective.  


3. Tiferet - Beauty, Harmony, Compassion


Loving kindness is associated with the right side, strength with the left side. Tiferet, beauty and harmony is associated with the middle column, which blends and connects the right and the left. 


Compassion blends the perspective of discipline and kindness by acknowledging the view of discipline, that not everyone is deserving, with the view of kindness that seeks to give to everyone. Because compassion is the desire to help even the person who is undeserving, yet, it is elicited specifically by people who require compassion. 


Compassion is the emotional bridge that can easily connect to others. Unlike kindness which is motivated by the giver's desire to give, compassion is the ability to be empathetic, to sense the other person's pain and need. In fact, the Kabbalah explains that while love dictates that we love a limited number of people, our compassion reaches a far wider circle. We have compassion for any stranger, even if we know nothing about the person, even if we never see the person, as long as we sense their pain.  


We may be upset at the behavior of a spouse, a child, or a friend, but as soon as we sense that they are in pain, the resentment and anger will be replaced with compassion and then love. Because once the bridge of compassion is built, the love will flow on the emotional bridge.   


4. Netzach - Victory, Endurance


The first three emotions are considered primary, whereas the second three are their "branches." Victory is the branch of loving kindness and represents the soul power that motivates the person to overcome any obstacle and challenge and carry through that which the loving-kindness motivated them to do. Victory is considered a "branch" and not a primary emotion because it operates even when the underlying love is no longer felt. For example, if a person decides to begin a project, join the military, enroll in medical school, or start writing a book, motivated by love; victory, endurance,  is the motivation to carry through with the project even when the love is not felt. The challenges, obstacles, and distractions which block love motivate victory and endurance. The people who are activated and mobilized by crisis and challenges are the people in whom the attribute of endurance is dominant.   


5. Hod - Submission, Splendor 


Hod, the beauty of commitment. While the attribute of victory is a branch of loving kindness and is therefore rooted in self-expression, Hod, submission, is an extension of the respect of Gevurah-restraint. Even when one no longer feels the sense of awe, the soul has the capacity to be humble and commit to a cause greater than itself. 


6. Yesod - Foundation, Connection


Yesod, the sixth emotion, is a branch of the third emotion of Tiferet-compassion. Compassion is the feeling of empathy, whereas Yesod is the ability to convey the sense of connection to the other. When a child feels the bond of the teacher or parent, they will understand the material far better. Not because the teacher is wise or kind, but rather because the teacher is expressing the attribute of Yesod-connection. 


7. Malchut - Royalty 


Malchut, the final soul power, is expressed through the power of speech. While at first glance, the power of speech does not generate any new content, but rather it is only a conduit to express ideas and emotions; speech will intensify an idea or an emotion. When one verbalizes an idea and communicates it to another, the speaker will reach a deeper understanding of the concept. When one verbalizes one’s feelings, they will magnify and intensify.  


Speech is referred to as sovereignty because it is through words that a person can inspire, motivate, and lead others. G-d created the world through speech, and we "create" our environment through the words and ideas we project. 


 

Three Categories of Fruit - קדושים

Three Categories of Fruit

Of the fifty-one commandments in this week's Torah portion, there is one subject that, according to Chassidic commentary, is a prototype for our entire mission here on earth. The Torah commands that when planting a tree, the fruit of the first three years is prohibited for consumption. The fourth year's fruit is considered holy and must be eaten exclusively in Jerusalem. Only in the fifth year may the fruit be eaten anywhere and for any purpose: 

When you come to the Land and you plant any food tree, you shall surely block its fruit {from use}; it shall be blocked from you {from use} for three years, not to be eaten.

And in the fourth year, all its fruit shall be holy, a praise to the Lord.

And in the fifth year, you may eat its fruit; {do this, in order} to increase its produce for you. I am the Lord, your G-d. (Leviticus 19:23-25)

Our soul’s descent into the physical world is likened to a tree being planted in the soil. The experiences we engage in and the actions we produce are likened to the fruit of the tree. All of our “fruit” fall within one of three categories: (1) A prohibition, an act that is negative and therefore must be rejected, just like the fruit of the first three years. (2) A Mitzvah; an act that is holy and an obligation, similar to the fruits of the fourth year that must be eaten in Jerusalem. (3) A permissible act; an act that is "neutral," neither negative nor holy, just like the fruit of the fifth year that may be eaten anywhere.  

These three steps, according to Chassidic philosophy, are in ascending order. The first step is to separate from negative experiences, after the first step we then ascend to the step of engaging holiness by observing the commandments. But why does the third, and most sublime step correspond to the fruits of the fifth year, which are not holy but are merely neutral? 

The commandment of the first fruits indicates a profound message. In some ways, there is an advantage to a Jew engaging in "mundane" "neutral" activities, even over the performance of an actual Mitzvah commandment. The purpose of creation is to transform the entire world into a home for G-d, a place hospitable to holiness, goodness, and kindness. While the Mitzvah imparts intense holiness to a limited set of objects and activities, it is the "neutral" aspects and experiences of life that make up most of our day, and most of the physical objects in the world. When we engage in the neutral, mundane, with a higher purpose, to support our service of G-d, we are bringing the Divine not only to the realm of holiness but also to the entire world. 

Based on the teachings of the Rebbe, Ki Bayom Hazeh 5748

 

White Clothing - אחרי

White Clothing 

The High Priest, who was tasked with representing all Jewish people with his service in the temple, would wear eight beautiful colored garments. The Torah describes the nuances of how they were to be created in elaborate detail. G-d introduces the commandment to create the garments to Moses by saying: “You shall make holy garments for your brother Aaron, for honor and glory (Exodus 28:2).” 

Yet, surprisingly, on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year, the High Priest would not wear the eight colorful garments, referred to as the “garments of gold,” but rather four garments of white linen: 

He shall wear a holy linen shirt and linen pants shall be upon his flesh, and he shall gird himself with a linen sash and wear a linen cap these are holy garments, [and therefore,] he shall immerse himself in water and don them. (Leviticus 16:4)

Maimonides explains that on Yom Kippur, the High Priest would change between both sets of clothing. He would wear the white garments only for the services that were unique to Yom Kippur:  

All of the procedures involving the offering of the continuous offerings and the additional offerings of this day are performed by the High Priest while he is wearing his golden garments. The unique services of this day, by contrast, are performed while he is wearing his white garments. (Rambam, Avodas Yom Hakipurim 2.1)

Why would the High Priest remove his beautiful garments specifically when entering the innermost chamber of the temple on Yom Kippur? 

Rashi, quoting the Talmud, explains that it would be inappropriate to wear gold within the Holy of Holies, since gold could evoke the story of the Jewish people’s betrayal of G-d when they created the golden calf. As Rashi explains: 

{the High Priest} does not perform the service inside {i.e., in the Holy of Holies} wearing the eight garments with which he performs the service outside {the Holy of Holies}, for those {garments} contain gold, and a prosecutor cannot become a defender. {I.e., since the Kohen Gadol enters the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur to effect atonement for all Israel, he may not enter wearing gold, reminiscent of the golden calf}. Instead, {he wears} four garments, like an ordinary kohen, all of which are {made} of linen.

 Chassidic teachings offer a deeper insight. 

Our relationship with G-d is multi-dimensional. Throughout the year we seek to create a bond with G-d based on our actions. We strive to beautify ourselves by refining our personality and engaging in Torah study and good deeds. Throughout the year, we seek to dawn “gold garments,” garments of exquisite beauty and richness. 

Yet, on Yom Kippur, when the High Priest enters the innermost chamber of the temple, which represents the innermost core of our identity, he would remove the gold garments and wear plain white. Because the core of our soul is connected to G-d in an unconditional bond, independent of, and therefore not limited by, the beauty we attain and the accomplishments we achieve. 

Our relationship with G-d is multi-dimensional. We seek to earn the connection by beautifying ourselves. Yet we must be mindful that, at the core, our connection is unconditional and unchanging. 

The same is true for how we view ourselves. On one hand we celebrate our talents and achievements, yet on the other hand we must recognize that we have innate value and that our worth, in our esteem and in the esteem of G-d, is unconditional and infinite. 

 

When Exactly did our Ancestors Eat the Bread of Freedom?

 

When Exactly did our Ancestors Eat the Bread of Freedom?


Achieving liberation is uncomfortable. Breaking free of old habits and of negative patterns of behavior requires discipline. Avoiding the temptation of instant pleasure and the comfort of established neurological pathways requires persistence and willpower. Matzah, the unleavened bread of freedom, therefore, has no taste. To break free, one must be willing to give up immediate "taste" - enjoyment and pleasure - and muster the courage to ignore one's instinct, escape old patterns of behavior, and begin a new path.   


The Haggadah, the liturgy read during the Passover seder, offers two descriptions of the Matzah. At the beginning of the Haggadah, the description of the Matzah is the bread that we ate in Egypt: 


This is the bread of affliction that our fathers ate in the land of Egypt.


Toward the end of the Haggadah, however, a verse from the Torah is quoted that describes the Matzah as the bread the Jewish people ate after they left Egypt: 


"They baked Matzah-cakes from the dough that they had brought out of Egypt, because it was not leavened; for they had been driven out of Egypt and could not delay, and they had also not prepared any [other] provisions. (Exodus 12:39)"


The dual description represents the two general categories of liberation. The first is the liberation from the figurative "land of Egypt" - negative habits and destructive behaviors. Yet, even after we leave Egypt, even when we are in a positive and wholesome space, we still need to eat the bread of freedom. 


The exodus from Egypt is central to Judaism because it represents the ongoing journey of growth. Even when we are not trapped in negative patterns of behavior, we live within the confines of limited holiness and goodness. The Torah commands us: "you shall remember the day you went out of the land of Egypt all the days of your life”(Deuteronomy 16:3), because each day, we are called upon to grow beyond the limitations of yesterday, seeking to become kinder, wiser, and deepen our connection to G-d. 


The journey to freedom, otherwise known as the Passover Seder, begins with breaking free of negativity. As the Seder progresses, our definition of freedom expands. We understand that the bread of freedom must be consumed even after we leave Egypt because even a limited dimension of holiness and positivity traps our potential for ever-increasing growth.


This year at your Seder, experience both dimensions of the Matzah. Ask yourself, what negative behavior will I liberate myself from, and what positive aspect in my life will I expand?  


Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe, Maamar Hei Lachma Aniya 5741


Healing by Focusing Inward - מצורע

Healing by Focusing Inward

The Tzaraat affliction, whose purification process is the subject of this week's Torah portion, is not common today; nevertheless, the laws of tzaraat provide profound lessons that can enhance our spiritual growth. 

Our sages teach that the tzaraat affliction was a consequence of the sin of Lashon Hara, slander, as Maimonides explains: 

This change that affects clothes and houses which the Torah described with the general term of tzara'at is not a natural occurrence. Instead, it is a sign and a wonder prevalent among the Jewish people to warn them against lashon hora, "undesirable speech."

Slander, however, is merely a symptom. The root cause of slander is envy. When a person is jealous of his fellow, he finds comfort by pulling down the other by slandering his fellow, rather than raising himself higher. But, in fact, at the core of jealousy lies something deeper. The jealous person feels inadequate because he does not focus on his own abilities and blessings but instead focuses outward, looking toward other people. This creates a sense of emptiness within himself, causing him to be jealous of the other, which leads him to slander the object of his jealousy. 

To rehabilitate the root cause of slander, the inner void the person feels within himself, the Torah tells us that the person afflicted with tzaraat must sit alone outside the camp, secluded even from other ritually impure people: 

All the days the tzaraat 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 explains why he must dwell alone: 

He shall dwell isolated: [meaning] that other unclean people [not stricken with tzara'ath] shall not abide with him. Our Sages said: "Why is he different from other unclean people, that he must remain isolated? Since, with his slander, he caused a separation [i.e., a rift] between man and wife or between man and his fellow, he too, shall be separated [from society]."

There is, however, another reason why he must dwell alone. Dwelling alone forces a person to rely on himself for survival; he cannot count on other people for food, clothing, shelter, and company; he is forced to rely on his own creativity to provide for himself. When he sits alone, he is forced to focus on himself; and that is the first step of healing. He will eventually come to value himself without comparing himself to others. When he does so, he can come back to the camp and benefit from the blessings of interacting and integrating with the community without falling into a state of envy and jealousy that emerges from focusing on others and not appreciating oneself. 

The cure for envy that causes slander, then, is to focus inward, to appreciate oneself, valuing the unique gifts, opportunities, and blessings that G-d has granted each of us.    

 

The Woman Who Will Plant a Seed - תזריע

 

The Woman Who Will Plant a Seed


The third book of the Torah includes two extreme topics, one of intense holiness and the second describing ritual impurity. The book begins with the discussion of the offerings, which are presented in the temple and bring the person closer to G-d. It continues by describing “the eighth day”, the day the Divine presence rested upon the tabernacle. Yet, soon after, the book describes many forms of unholiness and ritual impurity that a person is subject to. 


The tension between the extremes of holiness and ritual impurity emerges from the fact that every person is indeed a hybrid of body and soul, finitude and infinity, physical and spiritual. 


And so, a recurring underlying theme of the book is the question of how to navigate the tension between the physical and spiritual dimensions of our personality. The easier path is to choose one and stick to it. Later in the book, we read about the corrupt behavior of the Egyptians and the Canaanites, who succumbed to the animalistic side of the human being. Yet, earlier in the book, we read about the two sons of Aaron who perished because they drew too close to G-d, entering the temple and offering a foreign fire because they wanted to escape the mundane physical world and be subsumed within spirituality and holiness. 


The more difficult but proper path is to follow what the Kabbalists refer to as “running and returning.” We must desire to cleave to holiness and spirituality, and we begin our day with a devotion to spirituality, yet, in order to fulfill our purpose in this world, we “return” to the physical world, a place susceptible to pain, negativity, and impurity, in order to sanctify it.  


Our portion focuses primarily on the intricate laws of tzaraat, a form of ritually impure skin discoloration. Yet the opening statement of the Parsha inspires us on how to live in the “run and return” model. The verse states: 


And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to the children of Israel, saying: a woman who will conceive {literally seed} and give birth (Leviticus 12:1-2) 


The relationship between G-d and the Jewish people is likened to the relationship between man and woman. The Hebrew word for woman, “ishah”, originates from the verse in Genesis where Adam proclaims: “This one shall be called ishah (woman) because this one was taken from ish (man).” Isha alludes to the state of the Jewish people, the woman, when they feel part of, and therefore, drawn to G-d. Yet, even when we feel the yearning and desire to cleave to our beloved, the verse continues, “will give seed,” we must descend to earth and plant holiness in the most unlikely place, the physical plane. 


When we “return” to saturate the earth with holiness, we are assured that we will “give birth”, that ultimately, the seeds of goodness we plant will sprout, grow, and give birth to a transformed reality. We are assured that we, individually and collectively, will fulfill the purpose of creation, which is to create a dwelling place for G-d in the physical world.   


Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe, Likkutei Sichos Tazria vol. 1 



The Infinity of Eight - שמיני

 

The Infinity of Eight 


Finally, after many months of construction and seven days of preparation, the children of Israel reached the climactic eighth day. Finally, after months of effort and anticipation, the Divine presence rested in the Tabernacle. As the Torah tells us:  


And Moses and Aaron went into the Tent of Meeting. Then they came out and blessed the people, and the glory of the Lord appeared to all the people.

And fire went forth from before the Lord and consumed the burnt offering and the fats upon the altar, and all the people saw, sang praises, and fell upon their faces. (Leviticus 9:23-24)


If G-d is everywhere, why did he command us to build a home for him in a specific place? If G-d is spiritual, why does he ask for a physical home? A similar but broader question: If G-d is spiritual and transcendent, why do we need concrete and physical acts, the Torah's 613 commandments, to connect to him? 


The answer is that spirituality or infinity do not capture the essence of G-d, who is undefinable. The only thing we know about G-d is that he cannot be defined. G-d cannot be confined to the spiritual realm, for G-d defies all definitions. As the Kabbalists write: "the Infinite light is completely perfect, just like Hecan express himself in the realm of the finite, so too He can express himself in the realm of the infinite." G-d can be grasped only in the interface between physical and spiritual, which indicates that he transcends them both. Therefore, when G-d chooses to express himself within finite space and within a physical act, when G-d invests his infinity within a defined space, that is when we touch the essence of G-d.


This is expressed in the name of the Parsha "Eighth." The number seven represents the natural cycle and includes the six days of creation, which represent the physical domain, and the seventh day of Shabbat, which represents holiness and spirituality. The number eight, by contrast, transcends the division between material and spiritual, holy and mundane, and represents the fusion of the two, where the infinite G-d enters the finite space. 


"Know G-d in all your ways." Judaism teaches us to connect to G-d not only by praying and studying but also by infusing our daily physical acts with spiritual meaning. Because only within the synthesis of the physical and spiritual can we touch the essence of G-d, which transcends them both. 


Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe, Shmini 5762

Constant Fire - צו

 

Constant Fire 


How does one keep motivated and inspired? How does one ignite one’s inner passion? In other words, how does one kindle their inner Menorah? 


This week’s Torah portion gives us insight. 


The Menorah, which stood within the sanctuary, and represents the fire within the heart, is kindled from the fire upon the “outer altar”, which stood outside in the sanctuary’s courtyard. 


The Torah states: 


And the fire on the Altar shall burn on it; it shall not go out. The Kohen shall kindle wood upon it every morning, and upon it, he shall arrange the burnt offering and cause the fats of the peace offerings to [go up in] smoke upon it.

A continuous fire shall burn upon the Altar; it shall not go out. (Leviticus 6:5-6)


Addressing the words “a continuous fire,” which are redundant since the verse also states that the fire “shall not go out”, Rashi explains that the word “continuous” alludes to the fire of the Menorah, which is ignited from the fire of the Altar: 


A continuous fire: The fire which the Torah calls “constant” is that with which they would light the lamps {of the Menorah}, about which it says, “to light a constant lamp.” It, too, should be kindled {using fire} from the Outer Altar. 


The Menorah, the inner fire of inspiration, is ignited from the outside altar, representing the external part of the person and his relationship with people outside of himself. The Torah tells us that instead of seeking inspiration that will inspire ourself, we should engage in action that will ignite our inner inspiration. If we want our inner emotions, our “Menorah,” to feel kind, we should engage in acts of kindness; if we want our hearts to be filled with love, we should begin with loving acts. And, we ignite joy within our hearts from the joy we bring to others. 


Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe, Lekutei Sichos, 17 Tzav Sicha 2


Adam Reappears - ויקרא

Adam Reappears

 

The name “Adam”, the first human being, does not appear in the Torah for most of the book of Genesis and the entire text of Exodus. As a result of the sin of the tree of knowledge, Adam became distant from G-d, and is therefore not mentioned again in the Torah.  

 

Yet, in the opening statement of the third book of the Torah, Adam makes a surprising reappearance. The Torah says:  

 

And He {G-d} called to Moses, and the Lord spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting, saying, Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: When Adam {a man} from {among} you brings a sacrifice to the Lord; from animals, from cattle or from the flock you shall bring your sacrifice. (Leviticus 1:2)

 

The Midrash explains that the verse uses the term “Adam,” one of the four words that mean “man,” in order to allude to Adam, the first human being. As Rashi explains:

 

a man: Hebrew Adam, Why is this term used here {as opposed to “Ish”}? {It alludes to Adam, the first man on earth, and teaches us:} Just as Adam, the first man, never offered sacrifices from stolen property, since everything was his, so too, you must not offer sacrifices from stolen property. 

 

Adam reappears in the third book because, at this point in history, Adam has been rectified. When Adam and Eve sinned, they were expelled from the Garden of Eden, where they lived in peace, tranquility, and closeness to G-d. The Midrash describes how due to the sin G-d’s Divine presence was expelled from the world in the sense that it was no longer felt and accessible within the world. Yet, at the culmination of the book of Exodus, the Jewish people built the tabernacle, recreating a home for G-d in this world. As the verse states (40:34): “And the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the Mishkan.” 

 

The temple was built, G-d once again had a home on earth, Eden was restored to the earth, and Adam was rectified.  

 

Adam has been rectified. It is now up to his children to extend the holiness of the temple, and expand the atmosphere of the Garden of Eden, to the entire earth.  

 

(Adapted from Tzror Hamor)


 

 

The Cloud on the Tent of Meeting - פקודי

 

The Cloud on the Tent of Meeting 


The final chapter of the book of Exodus describes the culmination of a great national effort to build a temple that would house the presence of G-d. Finally, after months of donating, building and anticipation, the chapter concludes with the description of how the Divine presence rested upon the temple: 


He {Moses} set up the courtyard all around the Mishkan and the altar, and he put up the screen at the entrance to the courtyard; and Moses completed the work.

And the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the glory of the L-rd filled the Mishkan.

Moses could not enter the Tent of Meeting because the cloud rested upon it and the glory of the Lord filled the Mishkan. (Exodus 40:33-35)


The Jewish people built the temple in order to sense the closeness to G-d; to witness how He would dwell in their midst. Yet, surprisingly, the book ends, not with the excitement of revelation but with concealment - Moses could not enter the tent of meeting because of the cloud. 


Chassidic Philosophy explains that sometimes “concealment” is, in fact, superior to “revelation” because “concealment” can represent the level that is far beyond our comprehension and our ability to perceive. This explains why the book concludes with concealment, because the “cloud” represents the essence of G-d that transcends our understanding. 


Nevertheless, the third book of the Torah, Leviticus, begins with an expression of revelation and closeness: “And He {G-d} called to Moses, and the L-rd spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting, saying.” This expresses the Chassidic principle that when revelation follows concealment, the revelation is far more profound. It is a revelation of the essence, which was previously concealed. 


This pattern, where revelation follows concealment because it represents a far more profound revelation, is reflected in our life as well. We all occasionally experience challenge, confusion, and spiritual darkness, when we feel distant from G-d and distant from our true potential. We must realize that the purpose of the darkness is to enable us to reach a greater awareness and revelation when we overcome the “concealment ” and return to a place of inspiration and positivity. Because, as explained, the light that follows darkness is a far more profound level of revelation. 


Perhaps this is the overarching theme of the Book of Exodus. The unprecedented revelation at Mount Sinai and at the Tabernacle follow the darkness of Egyptian slavery because the darkness of slavery is an opportunity to reach the far more profound revelation, the revelation that follows the concealment. 


Adapted from the Rebbe’s teachings, Lekutei Sichos Pekudei vol. 1. 

A Community of Individuals - ויקהל

 

A Community of Individuals 


Every human being has two contradictory psychological and existential needs: the need to experience life as an independent, unique individual as well as the need to be part of a larger group. We each sense that we are individuals with a unique personality, perspective, and gifts. To live an authentic life we must celebrate and cherish our individuality. Yet, we also possess a deep need to be part of a group, we yearn to transcend our existence and be included in something larger than ourselves.  


Where do these contradictory needs emerge from? 


These two needs are reflected in the names of the final two portions of the book of Exodus, Vayakhel and Pekudei. Vayakhekl translated as “and he {Moses} assembled,” which comes from the word Kahal, congregation, expresses the theme that individuals connect to form a community. In contrast, Pekudei, which means “counting” and refers to the accounting of the material donated to the temple and to the counting of the Jewish people, highlights the unique contribution of each individual.   


These contradictory needs reflect the purpose of all of creation, which is to create a home for G-d in the physical world. The formula “a home for G-d in the physical world” has two realities: the infinite and the finite. G-d, who is infinite, is drawn down into the finite reality of the physical world. The purpose of creation is written into the very core of our soul, which in turn expresses itself in the life of the person. 


Our soul seeks the connection to Divine infinity. This is expressed by the deep need to escape the confines of our personality, to transcend our own concerns and interests, and be subsumed within a larger community. The goal of creation, however, is to draw infinity into the finite reality, to draw the infinite G-d into every facet of creation. The soul, therefore, experiences the desire to celebrate its finite, unique personality, to celebrate its particular perspective, and to cherish its exclusive contribution to the universe.  


This insight is adapted from the Rebbe's words at a Farbrengen {Chassidic gathering} thirty years ago this Shabbat, which was the last time we heard the Rebbe speak at a Farbrengen. To quote Rabbi Yanki Tauber: “The Rebbe's Chassidim are still waiting for the next farbrengen. In the meantime, they're making communities.”


The Golden Calf and Divine Oneness - Ki Tisa

 

The Golden Calf and Divine Oneness 


This week's portion tells the story of colossal failure and spiritual descent, when Jewish people, just forty days after accepting the Torah at Sinai, betrayed G-d and served the golden calf. Yet, the name of the portion, Ki Tisa, "when you will raise {the heads of the Jewish people}" implies that this is a story not of descent but of elevation. 


After the sin of the golden calf G-d told Moses:


"Go, ascend from here, you and the people you have brought up from the land of Egypt, to the land that I swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, saying: 'I will give it to your descendants.' (Exodus 33:1)


G-d tells Moses "Go ascend from here", meaning, the experience of the sin and repentance itself, will lead to an even greater ascent. 


Indeed, our Sages teach "where the baal teshuva {the person who repents from sin} stands, even the completely righteous cannot stand." The baal teshuva is superior not just because of his intense, passionate longing for G-d, but also because of his contribution to the purpose of creation. While the righteous person only interacts with the neutral and holy experiences, the baal teshuva, who experiences sin and unholiness, elevates the sparks of goodness hidden within sin and brings them back to their source within G-d. 


There are two perspectives on reality. From the first perspective, the perspective of creation, the world is divided into good and evil. G-d's presence and oneness are expressed exclusively in the realm of good, whereas evil must be avoided and rejected. This is the perspective of the righteous. The baal teshuva, by contrast, rises to a far more profound experience of the unity of G-d. The baal teshuva experiences the second perspective, the point of view of the creator, who sees that the true essence of evil is the Divine spark responsible for its creation and continued existence. Therefore, through repentance and transformation, even evil can be elevated and reunited with holiness.  


These two paths, of the righteous and the baal teshuva, exist within each of us. While we hope for a life of holiness, serenity, and peace, while we dream of the path of the righteous, we often experience challenges, pain, and disappointment. When we do, we must realize that G-d is blessing us with the opportunity to rise to greater heights, to reconnect and recommit to our goals and values with greater passion. When we do, we will rise from the perspective of the creation to the perspective of the creator. We will discover the hidden spark within every experience. We will extend the awareness of the oneness of G-d into every aspect of reality, ultimately transforming the world into a place of goodness and kindness. 


(Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe, Lekutei Sichos Ki Tisa 16:4)


Constant Awareness - תצוה

Constant Awareness 

Is love constant or fleeting, stable or fragile? 

In our relationship with other people and our relationship with G-d, love is like a flame of fire that surges and retreats. A relationship, therefore, requires not only love but also devotion, not only desire but also willpower. 

This is the inner meaning of the "tzitz", show-plate, which the high priest wore on his forehead. As the Torah describes:   

And you shall make a show-plate of pure gold, and you shall engrave upon it like the engraving of a seal: Holy to the Lord."

And you shall place it upon a cord of blue wool and it shall go over the cap, and it shall be opposite the front side of the cap.

​​It shall be upon Aaron's forehead, and Aaron shall bear the iniquity of the holy things that the children of Israel sanctify, for all their holy gifts. It shall be upon his forehead constantly to make them favorable before the Lord. (28:36-38)

Like every aspect of the Temple, each of the high priest's garments represents a lesson in our Divine service. The tzitz represents our awareness of the presence of G-d. Every moment of the day, and every experience we engage in, is an opportunity to fulfill our Divine service, imbuing the world with holiness.

The Kabbalah explains that there are two levels of awareness. The first level of awareness is achieved through the cognition of the brain, when one meditates in prayer about the greatness of G-d. This cognition gives birth to the emotion of love within the heart. Yet, the love produced by intellectual contemplation can cease when the mind focuses on other matters throughout the day. Thus, the awareness of the understanding and the love it produces will not be "constant" throughout the day. 

The second level of awareness is the power of will that emerges from a deeper place within the soul. Even when one does not feel love, one can awaken the will to be devoted to a beloved. The will is represented by the forehead, which covers the brain and the mind, and represents the devotion, the will to connect, that is present even when the love is not felt.  

"It shall be upon his forehead constantly." The commitment that emerges from the will enables the person to be connected to G-d throughout the day, even when the love is not felt as passionately as it is felt during meditation and prayer.

Adapted from Torah Ohr Parshas Tizaveh 

 

What is the Primary Purpose of the Temple? - תרומה

 

What is the Primary Purpose of the Temple? 

 

Should we value ourselves based on what we do or should we value ourselves for who we are? Is our relationship with G-d based on what we do or is it based on who we are? 

 

This question is the deeper meaning of the debate between two of the great classic commentaries on the primary purpose of the temple that the Jews were commanded to build. The temple contained two chambers, a courtyard, and multiple pieces of furniture, including, the ark, table, menorah, two altars, and a washing basin. The question arises, which of these details expresses the core purpose of the temple? 

 

Nachmanides argues that the main objective of the temple was to house the ark, which contained the ten commandments. In his words: 

 

Thus the main purpose of the Tabernacle was to contain a place in which the Divine Glory rests, this being the ark, just as He {G-d} said, "I will arrange My meetings with you there, and I will speak with you from atop the ark-cover." Therefore He {G-d} first gave the commandment about the ark and the ark-cover, for they are first in importance. (Ramban 25:1) 

 

Maimonides, however, defines the sacrifices as the main objective of the temple. This implies that the temple's main function was the altar that served the offerings. As Maimonides explains in his Book of Commandments: 

 

We are commanded to build a Sanctuary to serve [G‑d]. In it we offer sacrifices, burn the eter­nal flame, offer our prayers, and congregate for the festivals each year, as will be explained. (Sefer Hamitzvos, positive mitzvah 20)

 

The altar and the offerings represent the person's effort toward self-improvement and development, refining himself and becoming closer to G-d. By contrast, there was no action or service related to the ark; thus, the ark represents G-d's relationship with the Jewish people that is unconditional and not dependent on anything the people were required to do. 

 

When Maimonides, the great legalist and codifier, looked at the Tabernacle, he focused on what a person is required to do, as symbolized by the offerings upon the altar, whereas Nachmanides, whose commentary incorporates the "hidden wisdom," the wisdom of the Kabbalah, sees the crux of the temple as an expression of G-d's love and desire to dwell amongst the Jewish people. 

 

The Rebbe explains that Maimonides and Nachmanides are not arguing; instead, to employ a Talmudic expression, "one said one statement, and one said another statement, and they do not disagree." Nachmanides focuses on the essence of G-d, whose connection to the core of the soul is unconditional, while Maimonides focuses on how we express our connection to G-d within our conscious mind, personality, and lifestyle. 

 

Returning to our opening question: G-d values us unconditionally because of who we are at our core, as Nachmanides highlights. Yet, as Maimonides alludes, G-d also gives us a roadmap, showing us how we can align the totality of our being with our essential core. 

 

Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe, Lekutei Sichos vol. 36 Vayakhel Pekudei. 

 

 

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