Torah Portion

Va’etchanan 5780

av5780At the beginning of our Parsha Moshe pleads before Hashem to be allowed to enter the land of Israel.  Hashem had told Moshe that he would not lead the people into the Land, but Moshe loved Eretz Yisrael so much so that he continued to pray to annul the decree (Artscroll Commentary).  “I implored Hashem at that time, saying… Let me now cross and see the good Land that is on the other side of the Jordan, this good mountain and the Lebanon.” (Chapter 3, Verses 23-25)

Rebbe Natan explains in Likutei Halachot a deeper reason why Moshe pleaded with Hashem to enter the Land of Israel.  Rebbe Nachman explains in the 54th teaching in Likutei Moharan (Part 1), that a person needs to guard his memory very well so that he will not fall into forgetfulness.  He needs to remember every day that the true purpose of life is preparing for the World to Come (Heaven).  When we pass away, our souls will return to Heaven.  The Heavenly Court will ask us questions about how we lived our lives in this world.  Afterwards, a person needs to use their power of memory on a more personal level.  This means that they need to contemplate well and to examine their thoughts, words, actions and experiences- what are the hints and the messages that Hashem is sending me in order to bring me closer to Him?  Every single day God has prepared special hints just for me, through the thoughts, words and actions that I experience.  However, in order to connect to this powerful aspect of memory, people need to guard themselves from having a bad eye.  Jealousy, hatred, and lust are examples of an evil eye.  Having an evil eye when we look at other people causes us forgetfulness.  Our heart is dulled and we are not able to contemplate God’s messages.  Therefore, Rebbe Natan explains, Moshe pleaded and prayed so many times before Hashem to be allowed to enter the Land of Israel.  This is because the main aspect of this holy memory and deeper understanding can only be attained in the Land of Israel.  (Likutei Halachot, the Laws of Judges, 5th teaching)

Rebbe Nachman also teaches in another lesson in Likutei Moharan, 217 (Part One), that the month of Tamuz, when we begin the Three Weeks, is alluded to in the verse at the end of the prophet Malachi, “זכרו תורת משה”, ‘remember the Torah of Moshe.’  Forgetting the Torah and forgetting our relationship with Hashem happened in the month of Tamuz, when Moshe broke the first set of Tablets.  Therefore, on a deeper level, connecting to the power of memory means to search for and contemplate what Hashem might be teaching us, everyday.  We want to rectify the aspect of memory which was blemished during the Three Weeks.

Every day Hashem is sending us special hints and messages to bring us closer to Him and to who we truly are.  However, many times, we do not understand what Hashem is teaching us.  Many things are hidden from us.  This causes us pain and confusion.  Why did I go through this?  What is this coming to teach me?  On the other hand, there are also times when we are granted the insight to understand the special message which God wants to teach us.

I was just speaking this week with the Rabbi and counselor I meet with on a weekly basis about a certain recent incident which was difficult for me with a neighbor.  We discussed what happened.  The facts of the case, so to speak.  Then we discussed what my feelings were about the matter and what my interpretation of the incident was.  I felt mostly fear about my next interaction with this neighbor.  In the moment, when this neighbor expressed negativity towards me, I was startled and did not know how to react.  I was surprised and did not have any insight.  Now however, thanks to my discussion with the Rabbi, I started to see the matter with more clarity.  I understood an important message which Hashem was trying to teach me.  Usually the pain or negative emotions that we feel about something that happens to us or in a certain relationship are related to our interpretation, our perspective and previous experiences.  Only about two weeks after my difficult interaction with the neighbor was I able to gain some insight and understand that my interpretation of what had happened was negative.  I was only able to realize this after contemplating, with the help of the Rabbi, what had happened a few weeks before.

During this time of year, after experiencing the Three Weeks of mourning over the destruction of the Temple and the Fast of Tisha B’Av, we begin to read the seven special haftaroth of consolation until Rosh Hashanah.  This Shabbat is also called Shabbat Nachamu, which are the first words of this week’s haftarah.  We are reminded that despite the difficulties we might experience, there are also moments of clarity and consolation.  May Hashem grant us and bless us with the ability to know and to remember that everything we go through in life contains within it a special message filled with love from Hashem.

(The image is courteous of chabad.org)

Personal Development

Pesach 5780

pesach

Shalom! I’m re-posting some short ideas about the holiday of Pesach which I wrote last year at this time.

Everyone should have a Chag Kasher v’Sameach! We should merit very soon to hear and share good news and to see the final Redemption speedily in our days, amen!

As a follow-up to what I wrote two weeks ago in Parshat Tazria about the attribute of humility, I found in a booklet of Breslov teachings about Pesach a diary entry by Rebbe Noson.  He writes there that being able to combine greatness and submissiveness is the main aspect of complete humility.  When can we obtain this attribute on a higher level?  He says that expanded consciousness and constricted consciousness come together and are included together on the night of the Pesach Seder, which is one of the most special and inspirational nights of the year as we read the haggada together and celebrate Pesach.  This is the main aspect of completion which a person can obtain, true humility.  Meaning that on the one hand a person needs to know their strength, knowing that their soul has tremendous light and strength to overcome and abstain from sins and negative influences; yet on the other hand they are able to be truly humble and know their own meekness compared to the greatness of Hashem.  When Rebbe Nachman said that regarding humility many people are mistaken, he also said during the same discussion that a person needs to know his own strength. (Reb Noson’s diary, 57)

Pesach, and especially the Seder night, has the power to awaken us from our spiritual sleep.  Rebbe Noson teaches that the exile is the aspect of sleep and the redemption is the aspect of awakening from our slumber.  Therefore, the main aspect of the exodus from the Egyptian exile, which is the source of all the types of exile which the Jewish people have experienced, is awakening from our sleep.  What awakens us from our spiritual sleep?  What helps us to seek a true, close connection with Hashem?  Ancient Stories, meaning the stories told by the true tsaddikim which contain within them the deeper, hidden aspects of the Torah.  An example of this is Rebbe Nachman’s stories.  One of the main mitzvahs which we fulfill on the Seder night as we gather with family and friends to celebrate our freedom is telling the story of the exodus and Hashem’s miracles.  The main part of the story which we emphasize is Hashem’s kindnesses as He took us out of the Egyptian slavery.  Reading the haggada and discussing the Exodus has the power to awaken people from their sleep, every person on their level.  This night has the power to awaken us and help us come closer to Hashem, to remember his miracles which are always with us.  This will in turn awaken G-d’s mercy to bring us the final redemption, may it come speedily in our time. (Otsar HaYira on Pesach, 119; Adapted from Likutei Halachot, Laws of Vows, 5th teaching)

Once a student of Reb Noson was complaining to him shortly before Pesach, ‘how am I going to buy everything I need for the holiday?  There are so many expenses and I just can’t afford it!’  Reb Noson replied to him, ‘you’ll have what you need for Pesach, you don’t need to worry, Hashem will provide for you.  What you really need to focus on and be concerned about is how to take the Pesach (referring to the Pesach sacrifice which was brought at the time of the Temple).’  Meaning that we need to focus on bringing the spiritual light of Pesach inside of us, which should be our main concern. (Paraphrased from a story I heard on a Breslov Research Institute video)

We should be blessed this year through our physical and spiritual preparations for the holiday and our celebration of the holiday to true, personal freedom as individuals and as a people.

 

Torah Portion

Vayigash 5780

vayigashOur parsha begins with the powerful encounter between Yehudah and Yosef.  “Then Yehudah approached him and said, ‘If you please, my lord, may your servant speak a word in my lord’s ears and let not your anger flare up at your servant- for you are like Pharaoh.”  (Chapter 44, Verse 18)

Based on Yehudah’s words to Yosef that he is like Pharaoh, Reb Noson reveals to us an important lesson about the power of good thoughts and the battle which is going on in our mind all the time.  Reb Noson says that the evil inclination is called Pharaoh, which in Hebrew can mean the language of revelation, פרוע.  This means that he shows people all of the entrances to impurity and tries to fool them into choosing one of his entrances.  Reb Noson says therefore that the main battleground and our main test with the evil inclination is in our thoughts.  We have a choice.  A person needs to think, says Reb Noson, thoughts about the Torah and about how to serve Hashem.  Thoughts of faith.  However, immediately when a person tries to think in these matters the bad thoughts of the evil inclination stand in his way and want to pull him into impurity.  A person who is trying to serve Hashem and come closer to Hashem will turn his back to these bad thoughts and not consider them at all.  As a result, these openings to impurity will be closed to him.  On the other hand, if someone is drawn after these bad thoughts and temptations, G-d forbid, then the gates of impurity are revealed to him.  This is how a person falls into sin and impurity and distances himself from the path of serving Hashem.  This whole matter, Reb Noson emphasizes, happens in a person’s thoughts.  This is why Yehudah approached and drew near to Yosef the Tsaddik.  This is the aspect of the Jewish people connecting themselves to the true Tsaddik.  In contrast to the bad thoughts which the evil inclination uses in order to tempt a person into sin, the tsaddik has the power to shine the light of truth upon a person and to help them find openings to leave their personal darkness and return to Hashem. (Likutei Halachot, the Laws of Theft, 5th teaching)

The Holy Zohar says that everything will be clarified in our thoughts.  What advice can help us strengthen positive thoughts?  How do we fight the battle?  Rebbe Nachman spoke a lot about the importance of guarding ourselves from bad thoughts and that we always have the power to choose a different thought.  It is impossible for a person to think two thoughts at the same time.  Rebbe Nachman teaches in the book Advice that when a person enters into his mind external thoughts, bad desires or other bad thoughts, he causes spiritual damage to his soul.  Therefore it is a great rectification and the main aspect of teshuva (repentance) when someone strengthens himself to remove from his mind any kind of negative thought.  We don’t need to let our thoughts control us.  The main advice to be saved from negative thoughts is only through a lot of prayer, says Rebbe Nachman. We can pray: ‘Hashem please heal me from bad thoughts’, just like we pray for physical healing.  In addition, he teaches that when bad thoughts attack us, we can replace them with good thoughts- thoughts of faith, Torah, prayer, or even business matters.  This will push away the bad thoughts from our mind, because as we said, it is impossible to have two different thoughts at the same time. (Advice, עצות המבוארות, Thoughts, teachings 2 and 3)

I have been reading the past few months an amazing small booklet that I bought in Uman this year.  It is selected letters from Reb Noson’s books of letters, Healing Leaves.  The letters are filled with incredible faith, hope, determination, advice and love.  Most of them are letters which he wrote to one of his sons, Yitchzak.  One of the things he repeats there many times is to focus on our good thoughts.  We have the power to choose to think thoughts of faith and Torah thoughts, and to leave behind our negative, disempowering thoughts.  Reading a letter each day is helping me to fight the daily battle to find strength, happiness and composure, and to not focus so much on negativity and things which bother me.

We should all merit during this time of year when the winter nights are long and dark to strengthen our good thoughts, our thoughts of truth and faith. Amen!

(The image is courteous of Chabad.org)

Personal Development

The Healing Power of Prayer Today

downloadWhen we have a bit of time to take a step back and contemplate our lives today and the world at large, it’s not hard to see that everything is sped up.  Our lives are busy.  Things move at a dizzying pace.  People want everything to be done as quickly and as easily as possible.  Instant.  A person is consistently bombarded with messages, advertisements, images, clips, etc.  YouTube, WhatsApp, Facebook…  It’s hard to find inner peace and composure.  It’s hard to find time to hear our own voice amongst all of the noise from the outside.  Rebbe Nachman calls this power which influences our world today so strongly ‘a stormy wind’, ‘a spirit of impurity’. (Likutei Moharan I, 8th teaching)  We are so used to being fed information and images from the outside.  Today people are expected to multi-task, instead of focusing calmly on one task at a time.  Personally this affects me also.  When I’m working and I get a new message on my phone, I feel like I need to check it right away.  We are always being distracted and drawn to different temptations and diversions.

How can we possibly find the composure and strength to stay connected to ourselves and to Hashem in such an intense reality?  Rebbe Nachman gave us a powerful weapon and remedy which everyone can fulfill- hitbodedut, personal prayer.  Personal prayer is setting aside time each day to breathe calmly, to reflect, to listen to myself, and to try to speak with Hashem in my words, in my own language.  Just being able to calm down, take a breath and have some quiet can be very healing in this day and age.  Personal prayer, says Rebbe Nachman is the main advice in our day and age, and something which anyone can fulfill.  It does not require any special talent or spiritual level, just the will to set aside time each day to connect to ourselves and to Hashem.  We want to hear our own voice, the voice of our soul.

Rebbe Nachman teaches in Likutei Moharan regarding personal prayer: “Hitbodedut is a very great level, greater than any other.  This means that a person should set for himself a time every day to be alone in a room or out in the field, and to speak out his words before Hashem… asking and pleading before Hashem that He should bring him closer to truly serving Him… This practice is a very great level, and it is a very good way and very good advice to come closer to Hashem, because this is a general advice which includes everything…” (Likutei Moharan II, 25th teaching)  Personal prayer is the main advice for coming closer to Hashem, because anything which we are lacking, in any area of our life, we can tell Hashem about it and ask Him to please help us.  Prayer is the answer to any problem or anything which we are lacking in our life.

In the book Rebbe Nachman’s Wisdom (Sichot HaRan), Reb Noson says that Rebbe Nachman would give each person special advice that would help them achieve a rectification for whatever they needed to rectify in their lives, according to their unique soul.  However, there were two things which he guided everyone to fulfill, every day of their life- learning halacha (Jewish law), and making time for personal prayer.  Reb Noson quotes later on in the same lesson that Rebbe Nachman said in general, regarding all of the different pieces of advice which he gave people about serving Hashem: “He said in this language: every practice which I advise people to fulfill is a special remedy, a rectification, and is effective for what a person did in the past, as well as for the future, and even after a person passes away from this world.” (Teaching 185)  Rebbe Nachman’s advice to make time for personal prayer is a healing remedy for the mistakes of the past, as well as for our lives today, and even for our future.  Sometimes we feel healing by singing a song, sometimes when we converse with Hashem, or cry or scream or ask Him questions… they are all expressions of deepening our relationship with G-d.

Rebbe Nachman once told a parable about a king who sent his son off to distant places to learn different wisdoms such as science and math, etc.   After some time, the prince returned home as a very wise person.  Once, the king commanded his son to take a very large stone and to lift it up to the roof of the palace.  The prince was unable of course to lift the stone and he was very upset that he was not able to fulfill his father’s will.  The king then told his son, when saw that he was unable to lift the great stone at all, ‘I didn’t intend for you to lift such a great stone in one piece, could you even do that with all of your great knowledge?  Rather my intention was that you should take a strong hammer and hit and break the stone into small pieces, and then you could lift them up to the roof.’  Rebbe Nachman then said to the student he told this parable to: ‘so too, Hashem commanded us to lift our hearts up to G-d in Heaven (Eicha, Chapter 3, Verse 41), and our heart is a heart of stone, a very great and heavy stone.  It’s impossible to lift it up whatsoever.  Only by way of taking a hammer, which is our speech, can we break and smash this heart of stone and lift it up to Hashem.’ (Chayei Moharan, Teaching 441) Our prayers break away slowly the stone, the layers which are covering our good, pure hearts.

In every prayer we recognize Hashem, we express our faith that He loves us and provides for us.  We increase our faith and connection with Hashem when we turn to Him in prayer.  This is the healing which our souls so desperately seek.

(Inspired by a class on personal prayer by Rav Erez Moshe Doron which I heard recently)

The image is courteous of myjewishlearning.com

Personal Development, Torah Portion

Nitzavim- Rosh Hashana 5779

vidui rk

 

During this time of the year, at the end of the month of Elul, we say Selichot, special prayers said before the regular morning prayers, asking Hashem for forgiveness for our transgressions and for mercy.  Part of the Selichot prayers is a confession of our transgressions.  The above ‘confession’ is actually a ‘confession’ of the good deeds which we have also done this year, based upon a teaching by Rav Kook, the Chief Rabbi of the Land of Israel before the founding of the State of Israel.  He taught that just as there is great benefit to the soul when we confess our sins, so too when we remember our mitzvot.  This helps us to appreciate them and strengthen our happiness and commitment to the path of serving Hashem.

The following is a rough translation: ‘We loved, we cried, we gave, we spoke beautiful words.  We believed and we tried, we remembered, we hugged, we tasted a sefer (book). We created, we wanted, we fought for justice, we tried to do our best, we turned to see, we did what we were commanded.  We explained, we were correct sometimes, we called out in Your name.  We wanted, we rejoiced, we gave support.’

Blessings to all of our family, friends and readers for a Shana Tovah u’Metukah, 5780!  May you be signed and sealed with only good things in the Book of Life.

Torah Portion

Ki Tavo 5779

ki tavoOur parsha opens with the mitzvah of bringing the first fruits to the Holy Temple.  Farmers in the land of Israel were commanded to take the first ripened fruits to the Temple and present them to the Kohen, and to thank Hashem publicly for saving us from our enemies and bringing us to the Holy Land (Artscroll commentary) “Then you shall call out and say before Hashem your God, ‘An Aramean tried to destroy my forefather.  He descended to Egypt and sojourned there, few in number, and there he became a nation- great, strong, and numerous… Then we cried out to Hashem, the God of our forefathers, and Hashem heard our voice and saw our affliction, our travail, and our oppression.’” (Chapter 26, Verses 5-7)

Reb Noson teaches that the first fruits are the aspect of renewal.  A farmer was obligated to bring the new, first ripened fruits each year, as described above.  Hashem, with his kindness and wonders saved us from our enemies.  What does renewal mean?  A person needs to renew themselves all the time, and to start again from the beginning when they’ve fallen.  Don’t be startled by your thoughts, says R’ Noson, when you think of all of the obstacles, and trials, and attacks of the evil inclination that you’ve experienced.  Rather, a person needs to remind himself of Hashem’s kindnesses and miracles which he has seen until this moment, just as the Torah teaches us in the chapter about the first fruits.  Despite everything that the Jewish people went through in the Exodus, and everything that Yaakov our forefather experienced with his brother Esav and in the house of Lavan, nevertheless Hashem helped them and saved them.  So too on a personal level, each person goes through all of the same types of trials during their lifetime.  The evil inclination pursues a person and overcomes them and tries to knock them down every day, just as Lavan and Esav pursued and even wanted to kill Yaakov.  Nevertheless, Hashem helps each individual and the Jewish people as a whole every time, just as we say in the daily prayers: ‘and for your miracles which are with us every day, and for your wonders which are with us every moment… He who is good, because His kindness is eternal…”  There is no other advice, says Reb Noson, except emunah (faith), which is the aspect of renewal.  We can renew ourselves with the faith that Hashem is always helping us.  A person should know that they truly don’t see and don’t know at all the bigger picture of their life; therefore they just need to strengthen themselves in the holy faith which we, the Jewish people, received from our forefathers.  Don’t let anything you go through confuse you and startle you!  The Sages said that even if a person transgressed the entire Torah, many times, God forbid, nevertheless there is no despair in the world, and even this person can make a new start!  Hashem has pleasure, so to speak, from even the worst person, who is very far due to his sins, when he returns and comes closer to Hashem.  Therefore, a person needs to start anew every time, which is the aspect of the first fruits. (Likutei Halachot, the Laws of Meat and Milk, 4th teaching)

This month is a powerful time to tap into the power of renewal and to contemplate how we want the new year of 5780 to be.  What do we want to change?  What do we want to improve?  The new year ahead is a totally new creation and there are so many possibilities which are open for us.  If this year has been, G-d forbid, a difficult and challenging year for you, the next year can be completely different!  Everything can turn around.  If this year was a really good year, we still need to strive to renew ourselves and to set new goals for ourselves.  Hashem is helping us prepare this month for the new year ahead by setting objectives for ourselves, as well as by helping us see the issues in our lives which we need to try to improve and rectify.  It is taught about the month of Elul that Hashem’s presence can be felt more closely and more strongly this month, the King is in the field.  Hashem comes toward us and wants us to come closer to him.  It is a time of mercy and love.

May we all merit as we prepare for the new year to renew our faith is Hashem’s loving presence and guidance, and may we seek His closeness when we pray and think about the new year ahead, amen.

(The image is courteous of Chabad.org)