Blog - Torah Insights

Is G-d Bribing us to Keep the Torah? - בחוקותי

Is G-d Bribing us to Keep the Torah? 

In the final portion of the book of Leviticus, we read of the reward for keeping the commandments; the Torah relates G-d's words: 

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.
Your threshing will last until the vintage, and the vintage will last until the sowing; you will eat your food to satiety, and you will live in security in your land. (Leviticus 26:3-5)

The commentators raise two questions: (1) Why does the Torah describe a reward that is physical, rain, an abundance of produce, etc., and not a spiritual reward in the afterlife? (2) Why does G-d promise a reward altogether? After all, our sages teach that one should serve G-d motivated by love and not by the ulterior motive of a reward.

One answer the commentators offer is that the Torah addresses most people who are not on the level of serving G-d for its own sake and need to be motivated by reward. This explains why the Torah only mentions the material reward and does not explicitly mention the spiritual award. Because the Torah is addressing the majority of people who do not relate to abstract spiritual reward and are motivated only by the tangible and materialistic. 

Chassidic philosophy offers a deeper insight. 

The purpose of life is for the Torah, G-d's will and wisdom, to penetrate every area of our life and every aspect of our personality. When the reward for keeping the Torah is manifest in material blessings, that demonstrates that every area of our life, not only the spiritual and sublime but also the physical and material, is permeated with the Torah, which is the conduit for Divine energy and blessing. 

This explains why Jewish writings emphasize the blessing and abundance that will be available in the Messianic era. Maimonides emphasizes that the "the good will flow in abundance and all the delights will be freely available as dust," and "the occupation of the entire world will be solely to know G-d." Although people will be fully immersed and engaged in the spiritual pursuit of knowledge of G-d, nevertheless, it is essential to emphasize the material abundance in order to emphasize that in the Messianic era, the physical world itself will be in tune with its spiritual source. The pain and suffering that we experience during exile is a result of the unnatural disconnect between the physical world and its spiritual source. The Messianic era will heal the divide between the creation and its creator; thus, the connection to G-d, the source of life, will express itself in the material abundance of the physical world.

Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe, Lekutei Sichos Bechukosai vol. 37

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


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