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The Kabbalah of Dance - אמור


The Kabbalah of Dance

A circle dance, according to wikipedia, is probably the oldest form of dance. In Biblical Hebrew there is a specific word for a circle dance, Machol, as King David wrote in the Book of Psalms: “Let them praise His name with a {circle} dance”.  

The Hebrew word Machol, a circle dance, is related to the word Mechilah forgiveness. What possible connection can there be between a dance and forgiveness? 

When a person is dancing in a circle he begins the dance at a specific point, and then moves farther and farther away from that point, only to once again return to the same point. If a person would observe a dance for the first time, he would probably wonder what the point is of going in circles, moving away only to return once again? Yet, the nature of dance is that the rhythm, exuberance and joy of the dance is produced specifically by moving farther away in order to return. 

The Kabbalists explain that all of life is, in essence, a dance. The soul descends into this world, moving away from its sense of closeness to G-d, yet the descent and distance is in order to return closer to G-d with greater passion, excitement and joy. If the soul had not moved away from G-d, it would experience the closeness to G-d as if it were, so to say, sitting on a couch right next toG-d. Yet the descent, and distance, is likened to the excitement and passion which is produced by the dance. 

The circle dance explains the rhythm of the seventh month in the Jewish calendar, the month of holidays, which is discussed in this week’s portion. The month begins with the days of awe. On Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur we seek forgiveness, we introspect, we realize that, inevitably, over the course of the year, we have moved away from G-d, from our true self, and from our deepest aspirations and goals. We sense the awe. The distance and gap between the person we are and the person we know we could be. Yet, just like the circle dance, the feeling of distance, is just the first part of the story. Specifically because we sense the distance, feel the longing, and seek forgiveness, we are drawn back to the starting point of the circle in a much deeper way. After the distance, after the forgiveness of Yom Kippur, we experience G-d’s love to us in a more profound way. The second half of the circle, is the second half of the month, “the season of joy”, when we sit in the Sukkah, whose walls symbolize G-d’s loving embrace, and experience a far deeper sense of joy than the soul could ever have felt had it not embarked on the dance we call life.   

Throughout the year we experience the pain, frustration, and disappointment of being distant from the people we love, from our true selves and from G-d. We experience setbacks and challenges. We sometimes seem to be moving farther away from the life we want for ourselves. The rhythm of the month of the holidays teaches us a profound lesson: it is up to us to transform the distance into a circle dance. We alone can transform the pain into longing and the longing into profound closeness. All we need to do is realize that we are in the midst of a circle dance. 

Adapted from Lekutei Torah, Shmini Atzeres, 86:3.  

Are You Lovesick? - אחרי מות קדושים


Are You Lovesick? 


Getting too close to G-d could be dangerous. That, according to Rashi, is the message of the opening verse in this week's Torah portion: 


And the Lord spoke to Moses after the death of Aaron's two sons, when they drew near before the Lord, and they died.


Why does the Torah have to state that the commandments of this portion occurred after the death of the sons of Aaron, which is a story that has been clearly stated previously in the Torah? 


Rashi, offers an interesting metaphor to explain the repetition:  


Rabbi Eleazar ben Azariah illustrated [the answer] with a parable of a sick patient, whom a physician came to visit. [The physician] said to him, "Do not eat cold foods, and do not lie down in a cold, damp place." Then, another [physician] visited him, and advised him, "Do not eat cold foods or lie down in a cold, damp place, so that you will not die the way so-and-so died." This one warned that patient more effectively than the former. Therefore, Scripture says, "after the death of Aaron's two sons" [i.e., God effectively said to Aaron, "Do not enter the Holy in a prohibited manner, so that you will not die as your sons died"]- 


This metaphor explains that "and they died" is a veiled warning to Aaron to adhere to the commandment warning against entering the holy of holies (except on Yom kippur). 


But why does the metaphor describe a sick person, when the same point could have been made about a physician warning a healthy person to take preventive measures (to secure their health)? Why does the metaphor imply that Aaron was sick?


The metaphor teaches us that, indeed, Aaron was sick. Aaron was love sick. 


Aaron had a deep yearning and desire to connect to G-d, just like a sick person burning up with fever yearns for cold air and cold food. Aaron had to be warned not to enter the holy of holies, because without the warning he would be drawn to escape to the intense holiness and lose the ability to live a healthy balanced life. 


Like Aaron, we too must be lovesick. True, G-d desires that we live in the material world and infuse it with holiness. G-d desires that we sanctify the mundane experiences of daily life. But, paradoxically, in order to do so, we must cultivate the desire to escape the confines of materialism and be enveloped in Torah and prayer. 


The Kabbalah teaches that the model of connection to holiness is "run and return". We begin our day with prayer. We recite the Shema, declaring the unity of G-d and declaring the verse "you shall love the L-ord your G-d with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might". Only after this moment of intense connection (running) in the beginning of the day, do we focus on the "return", channeling our love to fulfilling G-d's will down here on this earth. 


The purpose of creation is the "return", yet the only way we can remain connected to holiness while in "return" mode is by "running", cultivating a longing and desire to cleave to G-d.


To live a wholesome life, we need balance. We must focus on life on this earth, but we also need to be lovesick.  


Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe, Lekutei Sichios Acharei vol 7 sicha 1.



How to Criticize Effectively - תזריע מצורע


How to Criticize Effectively 

A Kohen {a member of the priestly family who would perform the Temple service} represents the attribute of love. In the Ethics of Our Fathers, the Mishnah teaches: “be of the descendants of Aaron {the patriarch of the priestly family}, a lover of peace, a pursuer of peace, one who loves the creatures and draws them close to Torah”. The feeling of love is integral to the role of a Kohen. Until this very day, when the priests fulfill the commandment to bless the Jewish people, they recite the blessing “Blessed… who commanded us to bless his people Israel with love”. The blessing defines the commandment as one which not only commands to bless but also to bless with love. In fact, the reason the Kohen’s words elicit Divine blessing is because the blessing is recited with love. 

Yet, in our Torah portion, the Kohen also has a very different role. It is specifically the Kohen who can declare a person impure with the ailment of Tzaraat. While determining whether an affliction is indeed Tzaraat requires the expertise of a sage, nevertheless it is not the sage who can declare the person impure; but rather, the sage notifies the Kohen that the affliction is umpire, and the Kohen is the one who must pronounce it impure. As Maimonides codifies the law: 

The designation of a person as impure or pure is dependent on a Kohen. What is implied? If there is a Kohen who does not know how to assess blemishes, a sage should observe them and instruct him: "Say 'You are impure,' and the Kohen says: "You are impure;" "Say 'You are pure,'" and the Kohen says: "You are pure." "Isolate him," and he isolates him… Even if a Kohen is a minor or intellectually or emotionally incapable, the sage instructs him and he declares the person definitively impure, releases him from the inspection process, or isolates him. (Maimonides Laws of Tzaraat 9:2) 

Why is this the only law in the Torah which requires a Kohen to decide a matter of law?

The Tzaarat is, in some ways, the most severe form of impurity, requiring the Metzora {person afflicted with Tzaarat} to “dwell isolated, his dwelling shall be outside the camp”. This, precisely, is the reason the Torah demands that specifically a Kohen, whose spiritual makeup and communal responsibility is to love his people,  be the one to declare a person impure. For the Kohen will not declare anyone impure unless it is absolutely necessary to do so. When the Kohen is forced to declare a person impure, the Kohen’s empathy, concern, and love will allow the person to accept the Kohen’s declaration without becoming defensive, enabling him to begin spiritual rehabilitation that will ultimately render him pure once again. 

A google search on “how to criticize effectively” will yield many good techniques, but, in our Parsha, the Torah teaches that the most important factor in effective criticism is the way in which it is given. The way the recipient of the criticism, be it a child, college employee, or friend, is able to accept the criticism is when they  sense that the critique is motivated by your love and concern. 

Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe, Lekutei Sichos Tazria vol. 27 Sicha 2. 

When Moses Could Not Complete the Job - שמיני


When Moses Could Not Complete the Job

After many months of construction, after the seven-day temple inauguration, the fateful day had finally arrived. On the eighth day, the Divine presence was to rest on the sanctuary, symbolizing that G-d desired to dwell amongst the Jewish people. Yet, even after the services were performed on the eighth day, there was no sign of a Divine revelation. After anticipating this moment for so many months, the people cried out to Moses: what is the meaning of the delay? Is it possible that G-d has no interest in his people and in their efforts to erect a home for Him in their midst? 

Moses' response was unexpected. He said that he, Moses, was unable to cause the Divine presence to dwell. As Rashi explains:  

Throughout all seven days of the investitures, when Moses erected the Mishkan, performed the service in it, and then dismantled it daily, the Shechinah did not rest in it. The Israelites were humiliated, and they said to Moses, "Moses, our teacher, all the efforts we have taken were so that the Shechinah should dwell among us, so that we would know that we have been forgiven for the sin of the [golden] calf!" Therefore, Moses answered them (verse 6), "This is the thing the Lord has commanded; do [it], and the glory of the Lord will appear to you. My brother Aaron is more worthy and important than I, insofar as through his offerings and his service the Shechinah will dwell among you, and you will know that the Omnipresent has chosen him." (Leviticus 9:23)

Moses states: "my brother Aaron is more worthy and important than I." But why? Wasn't Moses the one who took the people out of Egypt, led them to Mount Sinai, and brought them the ten commandments? Why was Aaron superior in his ability to cause the Divine revelation in the temple?  

Moses and Aaron were distinct in their spiritual personality and, therefore, in their leadership role. Moses represented the attribute of truth and Aaron the attribute of peace. Moses's mission was to convey the Divine law, to bring the word of G-d to the people. Moses's chief responsibility was to communicate the unadulterated Divine will. Aaron, by contrast, was a man of love. His task was to inspire the people to elevate themselves and come closer to G-d. As the Ethics of our fathers state: "Be of the disciples of Aaron—a lover of peace, a pursuer of peace, one who loves the creatures and draws them close to Torah."

Since the ultimate purpose of G-d's descent into the world is to inspire the subsequent elevation of the world, therefore, it is specifically Aaron who represents the elevation of the people, who is the one who causes the Divine revelation. 

There is a Moses and Aaron in each of our lives. When we study Torah, seeking to connect to the Divine truth, we connect to the Moses within us. When we reach out to help others, to raise them either physically or spiritually, we express the Aaron within us. 

The lesson for us is that if we want G-d to rest within our life, we must not only study Torah, focusing on our own growth, but rather, we must be like Aaron, loving the people around us and bringing them closer to the Torah. 

(Based on the teaching of the Rebbe, Shabbos Shmini 5732)

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