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)

Torah Portion

Ki Tetze 5779

tetzeOne of the many mitzvas taught in our parsha is the mitzvah of returning a lost item.  “You shall not see the ox of your brother or his sheep or goat cast off, and hide yourself from them; you shall surely return them to your brother.  If your brother is not near you and you do not know him, then gather it inside your house, and it shall remain with you until your brother inquires after it, and you return it to him.”  (Chapter 22, Verses 1-2)

Reb Noson explains that the Tsaddik is the main person who can return all of the lost items of each and every person.  He exerts himself in his service of Hashem until he is able to find the lost items of each individual.  The Tsaddik constantly yearns to return to each person their lost items, their special light, the light of their soul, which is lost and hidden from them.  Therefore, Rebbe Nachman explains in Torah 188, in the first part of Likutei Moharan that a person needs to go to the Tsaddik in order to seek what he has lost.  These souls who come to the Tsaddik are coming to him to request their lost items.  The Tsaddik takes these souls and lifts them up and renews them with new Torah revelations and insights.  By way of this he returns to them their lost items, because the main thing which they have lost is the Torah which they forgot when they were born.  Each and every time that a person comes to pray by the Tsaddik, the Tsaddik raises up their soul and renews it.  He reveals to them more of the light of the Torah which they’ve lost.  In addition, Reb Noson explains, the Tsaddik illuminates their soul in such a powerful way through the Torah that he reveals to them, that they themselves receive the strength to begin looking for the lost items which they still haven’t found.  This process happens slowly over time.  However, the light of the Torah which is revealed to them by the Tsaddik is now like a candle for them, illuminating the way for them in the darkness.  (Likutei Halachot, the Laws of Lost and Found Objects, 3rd teaching)

The Tsaddik returns to us our lost items.  After reading this teaching I thought about the annual Rosh Hashanah gathering in Uman.  What draws so many people to travel to Uman for Rosh Hashanah from all different parts of the world?  If you go to the annual gathering you will see every different type of Jew you could imagine, and they are all there because something powerful draws them to travel to this small city in the middle of Ukraine.  I think that this is one of the main things which pulls people to come.  Even if a person might not consciously be aware of it, their soul is telling them- I’m lost, I feel lost, I need help to find the way.  I want to remember who I really am.  I want to find my way home to Hashem and to the Torah.  I lost the light of the Torah.  The Tsaddik, Rebbe Nachman, is helping each person who comes to pray by him to find their own way back to Hashem.  He helps them find again the special path which they saw clearly when they were still in the womb.

Elul is a time of remembering- remembering our connection with Hashem, and wanting to remember who we really are.  A time of remembering- what am I doing here in the world?  Before we were born we knew the entire Torah, and we knew our own personal, unique purpose and what we need to rectify during our lifetime.  Then everything was forgotten.  The Tsaddik wants to help us remember and re-discover the Torah that we’ve lost, and he wants to show us our soul’s special mission in life.  This month of Elul is a powerful time to search for our lost items.  We should all merit this month to find what we’ve lost along the way, and to shine the light of our soul more and more!

(The image is courteous of Chabad.org)

Torah Portion

Shoftim 5779

shoftimIt’s good to be back, Baruch Hashem!

Our parsha begins with the command to establish courts in every city in the land of Israel to settle disputes between people: “Judges and officers shall you appoint in all your cities- which Hashem, your G-d, gives you- for your tribes; and they shall judge the people with righteous judgement.” (Chapter 16, Verse 18 and Artscroll commentary)

Reb Noson teaches that when the judges and the rabbis make a fair judgement between two people who have a dispute, this is the aspect of teshuva (repentance).  The judges help to return the stolen item, for example, to its proper place and to its root.  The person who tried to steal from someone else wanted to uproot the object from its root and bring it to a foreign, external place.  When the judges decree a ruling which is true and just by clarifying the truth of the case, then the money or the object is returned to its proper place and to its root.  This is the aspect of teshuva.  Therefore judgement is called a judgement of peace, as it is written, “Speak the truth with one another; and in your gates judge with truth, justice and peace.” (Zechariah 8, 16)  The main aspect of judgement is making peace between the quarreling parties. (Likutei Halachot, Laws of Authorization, 2nd teaching)

Teshuva.  We have now entered the final month of the year- Elul.  When people hear the name Elul, they think about teshuva and about preparing for the days of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur.  Many times we feel excited for this special time of the year, and at the same time apprehension for the High Holy Days which are approaching.  How can we all connect to teshuva in a deeper way; in a way which awakes our ratzon (will) and not unnecessary fear?  What does teshuva mean beyond the important aspect of confessing our sins before Hashem and asking Him to help us change our ways?  Teshuva is returning something to its root.  When we pursue a life of teshuva, we return to our true place.  Slowly we feel inside more peace and more happiness that we are returning to ourselves and living a life of purpose.

Rebbe Nachman begins his collection of stories with the story of the Lost Princess, which contains an amazing message about the power of teshuva and our longing to return to our souls and to Hashem.  It’s about never giving up and longing to find the Lost Princess, who represents our souls.  The story begins: ‘On the way I told a story, and anyone who heard it would have a thought of teshuva.’  What does it mean to have a thought of teshuva?  A thought of teshuva is when we think to ourselves that I still have hope, hope to return to Hashem and to correct my ways, despite everything I’ve done and everything I’ve gone through in my life.  From this point I can choose a new path, I can change.  Even if I still haven’t done any actual steps of teshuva, this thought of teshuva, that I have hope and I can change, means that I’m changing my mistaken internal perspective which tells me that I have no chance.  When someone decides to lose weight, for example, it could very well be that it will take more time (or a lot more time) before they actually lose the weight they want to.  However, the decision to change, the internal desire that things will be different and the faith that it’s possible to live differently are the most important principles, when we begin the path of teshuva.  Rebbe Nachman teaches in Likutei Moharan, in the 35th teaching in Part One, that teshuva means to return something to the place where it was taken from.  The beginning of the process of returning to our root, to our true selves and to a deep connection with Hashem, begins with these thoughts of teshuva. (Based upon a section from Ran Weber’s new book, Surely There is Love, page 36)

Rebbe Nachman explains in one of his main teachings about teshuva, in the 6th teaching in the first part of Likutei Moharan that when we want to change and correct our mistakes and return to ourselves, then we begin to have a true experience of life in this world.  Teshuva is the aspect of the name of Hashem, “I will be” אהיה (with this name Hashem revealed Himself to Moshe at the beginning of the book of Shemot).  This means that we are saying before Hashem and to ourselves ‘I am ready to be’.  I am ready for the journey of teshuva.

Teshuva is embarking on the journey to being who we truly are.  We are beautiful souls, created and brought into the world by Hashem in His infinite love.  I am ready to be who I truly am.  Teshuva is returning something to its root, to its home.

(The image is courteous of Chabad.org)

Torah Portion

Devarim 5779

imageWe have now begun the 5th and final book of the Torah, Devarim.  We also find ourselves in the final week of the three week mourning period before the fast of Tisha B’Av.  As I mentioned previously, Rebbe Nachman teaches in the 7th lesson of Likutei Moharan, Part One, that the main expression of exile and the main reason we are still in exile is a lack of faith.  When we don’t feel in any given moment that Hashem is with us, that everything we are going through is for our good, and that everything which happens has a purpose and reason, then we are in a state of exile and distant from our faith.

What are some different aspects of the exile?  How does the exile express itself in our lives?

Reb Noson teaches that the exile of the Jewish people, the fact that we were exiled from our land and that we were treated in exile as second class citizens and much worse, stems from the aspect of being exchanged.  What does this mean?  That the true children of the king were exchanged with the children of the maidservant, as Rebbe Nachman describes in his story the Exchanged Children.  The Jewish people are the true sons and daughters of Hashem.  The main expression of our state of exile is the exile of our soul, which means that our souls are far from G-d and that we don’t feel that we are the children of the King.  This state of exile, not truly knowing and living as the children of Hashem, causes all of the sins and physicality and negative desires which people fall into.  Truthfully however, the main expression of kingship in this world belongs to the Jewish people, as we saw during the time of King David and King Solomon, and which we will see again with the coming of the Moshiach.  (Likutei Halachot, Laws of the Morning Blessings, 3rd teaching, according to Otsar HaYirya)

Reb Noson says in another teaching that the main reason for the exile of the Jewish people in Egypt was due to strife (מחלוקת).  Yosef’s brothers argued with him and disagreed with him and eventually he was sold into slavery in Egypt.  Afterwards, Ya’akov and his family all needed to descend to Egypt, which is the opposite of the holiness of the land of Israel.  So too today in our times, the main aspect of exile stems from arguments and baseless hatred.  Strife and hatred distances the Jewish people from the holiness of Eretz Yisrael, which is the aspect of peace and pleasantness.  Therefore, concludes Reb Noson, before the final redemption Eliyahu the prophet will come to make peace in the world and amongst the Jewish people, because the redemption and the ingathering of the exiles depends upon peace.  (Likutei Halachot, Laws of Blessings on Fruits, 4th teaching, according to Otsar HaYirya)

Reb Noson also teaches that the bitterness of the exile is due to sadness and that they influence each other.  When the experience of exile gets heavier and heavier, then sadness increases; and when sadness increases, this causes the exile to get worse.  If so, how can we find help?  Reb Noson answers, that our strength to withstand the exile and our hope to reach the redemption comes from the true tsaddikim.  They shine to us hope and faith that the redemption will come.  They know how to dust off of us (so to speak) the dust, the sadness which overcomes our hearts, and help our hearts be ignited again to return to Hashem.  They help us turn the sadness and depression into joy, and through this the redemption will come. (Likutei Halachot, Laws of Giving Thanks, 6th teaching, according to Otsar HaYirya)

These teachings describe different aspects of how a lack of faith expresses itself in our lives and makes us feel distant from Hashem.  Not living as the children of the King, not feeling like His beloved children is an aspect of exile.  Arguments and hatred stem from jealousy and other negative emotions and are caused by not seeing the other person with the light of faith.  So too, sadness overtakes a person when they feel upset at what is happening to them, they don’t see Hashem in their situation and in their lives.  Sadness also causes us to feel disconnected from God.  Therefore, I think one of the main things we should be longing for this week and on the fast of Tisha B’Av is faith.  Longing and praying to feel Hashem’s presence, to feel and to know that He loves us and is truly close to us, even though we are still in a state of exile.  Praying to live our lives with more faith, more faith in Hashem and more faith in ourselves.

“May it be favorable before You, Hashem our God, that You have mercy on us and all of the House of Israel your people, to plant Your faith in our hearts, and we will merit to believe in You and in Your true tsaddikim with complete faith; and our faith will be pure and correct without any blemish and without any confusion at all, God forbid; and we will merit in Your great mercy that our faith will be so strong, that it will be as if we see with our eyes Your Godliness and Providence and Your Glory, which fills all of the world…” (Likutei Tefilot, 7th prayer, Part One)

(The image is courteous of Chabad.org)

Torah Portion

Masei 5779

masei“These are the journeys of the Children of Israel, who went forth from the land of Egypt according to their legions, under the hand of Moshe and Aharon.” (Chapter 33, Verse 1)  In this opening verse of the final chapter of the book of Bamidbar the Torah begins to summarize the entire path of the Jewish people since they left Egypt until this point, poised to cross the Jordan and enter the land of Israel (Artscroll commentary).  What can the journeys of the Jewish people on their path to Eretz Yisrael teach us about our lives today, about our own special journey in life?

Rebbe Nachman teaches in Likutei Moharan, based on the opening verse in our parsha and a Midrash, that the journeys of the Jewish people throughout the generations bring atonement for the sin of the Golden Calf.  They atone for the sin of idol worship which part of the Jewish people fell into when they thought that Moshe would not return from Mount Sinai.  However, even when a Jewish person isn’t actually doing some sort of idol worship, nevertheless there is an aspect of the sin of idol worship when a person’s emunah (faith) is lacking and damaged.  The Baal Shem Tov teaches regarding the verse in the book of Devarim, “lest your heart be seduced and you turn astray and serve gods of others…” (Chapter 11, Verse 16), that when a person turns away from Hashem this is the aspect of idol worship.  This sin of idol worship is rectified by the journeys of the Jewish people. (Likutei Moharan, 62nd teaching, Part Two)

How do our journeys rectify the sin of idol worship?  In Rebbe Nachman’s Wisdom, Rebbe Nachman talks about the importance of our travels and journeys in life.  ‘A person asked him regarding the matter of travelling to a certain place, if he should go there or not.  Rebbe Nachman answered him: when a person sees that he has a trip in front of him he shouldn’t be stubborn and just sit at home.  He should go, because every trip which a person makes to different places he is able to rectify something.  Certainly in every place which a person travels to he performs there some act of holiness, such as praying and saying blessings.  Therefore this person needs to travel specifically to this place in order to rectify something which only he can correct.’ (Teaching 85)

It seems that in his answer Rebbe Nachman was referring to the teaching which I brought above about rectifying the sin of idol worship.  In every journey which we undertake, we too can help repair and atone for the sin of idol worship and rectify our faith.  When we travel we are out of the comfort zone of our homes.  Despite this change and possible discomfort, if we are also able to connect to Hashem and to serve Hashem wherever we might find ourselves, we merit to be part of atoning for the sin of idol worship.  This is especially true I think when we are searching for ourselves, for the pure soul inside which we might have forgotten along the way, due to the trials of life and the confusion of being in this physical world, as Rebbe Nachman teaches in a different source.

‘Before a child comes into the world he is taught and shown everything that he needs to do and to accomplish during his lifetime.  When he enters the world immediately everything is forgotten… and therefore a person needs to search and request what he has lost.  His lost item is by the Tsaddik, because the Tsaddik searches after his lost item until he finds it.  The Tsaddik then goes looking for the lost items of others too until he finds them, until he finds the lost items of the entire world.’ (Likutei Moharan, 188th teaching, Part One)  The Midrash says that before a person is born, while they are in their mother’s womb, they learn all of the Torah with an angel, there is a candle lit above their heads and they can see from one end of the world to the other.  Right before they are born, the angel taps them on their top lip and they forget everything that they saw and understood.  The baby cries when they are born over the spiritual world they just lost.  In reality, all of the answers are inside of us, we’ve just forgotten what we need to do and what are special role is.  Only an impression remains.  Our life’s work is to remember, to remember the place of endless good where we really came from.  The main thing which we’ve lost is our special, internal point of connection to our true essence- to our souls.  This is what we need to be searching for in our journeys in life. (Adapted from a chapter in Ron Weber’s new book about marriage- Surely there is Love, 2019)

Just as the Jewish people journeyed forty years in the desert on their path to the land of Israel, on the path to their true destiny; so to for us today, every trip which we undertake can be an opportunity to discover more of the true good which we lost when we came into the world.

(The image is courteous of Chabad.org)

Torah Portion

Matot 5779

matot2The beginning of our parsha talks about the laws of vows and oaths.  “Moshe spoke to the heads of the tribes of the Children of Israel, saying: This is the thing that Hashem has commanded:  If a man takes a vow to Hashem or swears an oath to establish a prohibition upon himself, he shall not desecrate his word; according to whatever comes from his mouth he shall do.” (Chapter 30, Verses 2-3)    What can we learn from this parsha for our lives today?

Reb Noson teaches that we can learn from this parsha the incredible power of speech, because immediately when a person expresses a vow or an oath he is obligated to fulfill what he just said.  This mitzvah of making a vow is something lofty and wondrous.  We learn from this parsha the great power that a person has to create new mitzvahs which he was not commanded to do!  For example, a person can prohibit himself from eating or doing something which is permitted by the Torah, and immediately this object is prohibited to him as a Torah prohibition (until he nullifies his vow).  This is amazing.  Reb Noson emphasizes that we see from this special mitzvah of vows and oaths the power of a person’s choice, and the main aspect of his power of choice is through his speech and his heart.  When someone desires in their heart to make themselves holier or to distance themselves from something negative and they express their desire with their words, this expression becomes a law of the Torah (vows).  He forbids himself from something and it becomes a Torah prohibition.  The main aspect of vows and oaths is helping oneself become holier and to distance a person from negative desires, as the sages taught in Pirkei Avot- vows are a protection for abstinence.  The vow is fulfilled when a person expresses it with their mouths.   (Likutei Halachot, Laws of the Morning Blessings, 5th teaching)

We have begun this week a three week time period of mourning over the destruction of the Temple, culminating with the fast of Tisha B’Av.  Rebbe Nachman teaches in the 7th teaching of Likutei Moharan, Part One, that the main reason for our being in a state of galut (exile) is a lack of emuna (faith).  Therefore the redemption, the coming of the Mashiach and the rebuilding of the Temple will come when true faith spreads in the world.  What is a practical way that we can work on increasing our faith during this special time period of the Three Weeks?  Prayer.  Prayer is the most powerful expression of our faith in Hashem.  I can’t see Hashem, I can’t hear Him speaking to me, yet I turn to Him in prayer and converse with Him, because I believe that He hears and answers my prayers.  Rebbe Nachman teaches in another lesson, the 44th teaching in Part Two that our faith depends on our mouths.  When we speak words of faith with our mouths, this in itself is faith, and also through the words of prayer and faith which we express, we will merit to increase our faith.

He teaches as well regarding the custom of saying a special order of prayers called Tikun Chatzot, which are psalms and lamentations about the exile and the destruction of the Temple, that a person can express themselves and whatever difficulties they might be going through currently through the words of Tikun Chatzot, as if they were their own words.  Rebbe Nachman says further in this teaching that the main advice and the most fundamental advice to come closer to Hashem is only through reading psalms and other supplications, and speaking to Hashem in our own words in personal prayer.  Only by way of prayer can a person win the battle with the yetzer hara (evil inclination).  Don’t rest and don’t give up until you see that Hashem answers your prayers!  Reb Noson adds that prayer is something which the Sages said always needs strengthening, as it says in Tehillim (Psalms): “Hope to Hashem; strengthen yourself and He will give you courage, and hope to Hashem.” (Chapter 27, Verse 14)  Reb Noson concludes that even though we have spoken about prayer several times before in our teachings, nevertheless we need to speak about it again and again, to remember it every day, in order to strengthen ourselves against all the different types of confusion and weakness which try to stop us from praying. (Likutei Moharan, Torah 101, Part Two)

When I read the teaching above on the parsha above about the power of speech, I asked myself maybe I shouldn’t write again about prayer and the power of speech, since I’ve already written about the same subject recently in these articles.  Look for something else to share, I heard a voice inside saying.  Nevertheless, as Reb Noson emphasized, prayer is something which we always need to strengthen, and these three weeks of mourning are a special time of prayer, longing and reflection.  Even though this is a spiritually and emotionally difficult time of the year when many tragedies happened to the Jewish people, it is also a very powerful time for connecting in a deeper way to our faith and to longing for what we are still lacking as individuals and as a people.  When we lament what we are lacking during this time of the year, we will also merit the joy of the redemption to come, speedily in our days.

(The image is courteous of Chabad.org)

Torah Portion

Pinchas 5779

pinchas“Hashem spoke to Moshe, saying: “Pinchas son of Elazar son of Aharon the Kohen, turned back My wrath from upon the Children of Israel, when he zealously avenged My vengeance among them…” (Chapter 25, Verses 10-11)  At the end of the previous parsha, Balak, Pinchas put an end to the plague which killed 24,000 people as a result of the immorality and idol worship some of the Jewish men were seduced into with the Moabite and Midianite women.  Here at the beginning of our parsha, Hashem declares that Pinchas committed an act that saved many lives (Artscoll commentary).

Pinchas merited to continue the leadership of the Kohanim after his father and grandfather, says Reb Noson, because he was zealous to stop the sexual immorality of Zimri and those who followed him.  He helped bring back to the Jewish people the aspect of guarding their covenant with Hashem, which means conducting themselves with faith and holiness in relationships, especially in marriage.  This is the aspect of the Kohen, and therefore Hashem blesses Pinchas in the next verse: “Behold! I give him My covenant of peace.”  Pinchas’ act of zealousness helped to subdue the negative influence of the wicked Bilam, who was steeped in impurity, as we discussed last week.  Rebbe Nachman explains in Likutei Moharan in the 34th teaching in Part One, that by way of speaking holy words before Hashem in personal prayer, with a close friend, and by learning the teachings of the Tzaddik, any person can leave their lowly, fallen state of sin and truly return to Hashem.  Every person needs these three aspects in their service of Hashem.  Bilam did not want to nullify his desires with holy speech.  He did exactly the opposite- he tried to use his impure speech to cause damage to the Jewish people.  The Tsaddikim on the other hand bring out the good points of each and every Jew through their good words and they give strength to our souls. (Likutei Halachot, Laws of the Priestly Blessing, 5th teaching)

Rebbe Nachman explains in the teaching mentioned above that each and every Jew has a special point, a point where they too are a tsaddik.  “Because in every Jew there is something precious, a point which cannot be found in his friend… And this special point which each person has, it influences, shines and awakens their friend’s heart…”  He explains also in this teaching that when a person’s heart in sunken in negative, false aspects of love, meaning that their heart lusts after negative desires, then a person’s heart is broken in shame and they are far from the pure love which truly exists between Hashem and each and every Jew.  Therefore a person needs to speak a lot of words of prayer before Hashem in personal prayer, so that their special point, the light of their soul, will begin to shine again to their heart.  This will help them return to the pure love of our covenant with Hashem.  A person also needs to help their friend by speaking with them words of faith and awe of Heaven, in order to awaken the special point in their friend’s heart.  How do we find our special point of light and begin to share it?  This process of awakening our hearts and being able to give from our special point to our loved ones and friends comes as a result of connecting to a great Tsaddik and learning their teachings and advice.

This past Shabbat I went to a neighbor’s house after Mincha to pick up my daughter.  When I knocked on the door the father said hello and asked me if we had any plans this summer to go on a trip.  I answered, that yes in a month we’re going to the Ukraine.  He asked me, ‘do you have family there?’  I answered him that no, we are going to the grave-sites of the tsaddikim who are buried there.  He gave me kind of a surprised look and said, ‘okay enjoy.’  I know it seems hard to understand for many people, why travel all the way to the Ukraine to pray by the graves of tsaddikim?  We go to these true tsaddikim because they return to us all of the gifts, all of the spiritual treasures which we’ve lost along the way- faith, happiness, yearning, knowledge, trust, renewal, comfort and hope.  Their light gives us the strength and good advice we need to begin making changes in our life and to discover who we truly are, as we learned above regarding the three key points which we need to be able to return to Hashem.

Reb Noson writes at the end of Likutei Moharan that Rebbe Nachman spoke with him once about the grave-site of the holy Baal Shem Tov, and how it’s very good to go to his grave to pray there, (Rebbe Nachman would pray there a lot, even as a young child when he lived in Mezibuzh).  The true tsaddikim merit that their burial site has the holiness of the land of Israel, and Rebbe Nachman says that the land of Israel has the power to return us to our covenant with Hashem. (Likutei Moharan, Part Two, 109th teaching)  Just as Pinchas merited the covenant of peace and shined Hashem’s love to the Jewish people, so too the great tsaddikim of recent generations have this power to help us return to Hashem’s love and closeness, and to help us discover that point inside where we too are a tsaddik who has a beautiful, unique light to shine.

(In memory of my grandfather, Berel ben Yaakov Moshe haKohen)

(The image is courteous of Chabad.org)

Torah Portion

Balak 5779

balakBalak, the king of Moav, was afraid of the Jewish people, who were approaching the boundary of his kingdom on their journey to Eretz Yisrael.  He sought someone who had the power to curse the Jewish people, and he sent messengers to Bilam, a prophet of the gentile nations.  “He sent messengers to Bilam son of Beor of Pethor, which is by the river of the land of the members of his people, to summon him, saying, ‘Behold! A people has come out of Egypt, behold! It has covered the surface of the earth and it sits opposite me.  So now- please come and curse this people for me, for it is too powerful for me…” (Chapter 22, Verses 5-6)

Reb Noson teaches that we can learn an important lesson about the power of choice based on the story of Bilam’s attempts to curse the Jewish nation.  Hashem gave us so much power and potential in our ability to choose to the point that a person has the power to drawn down holiness from above, or the opposite, God forbid.  Therefore, even a person who is very far from holiness can obtain a level of spiritual vision (which is called רוח הקודש), because the power of choice and a person’s ability to focus on a thought and desire are very great.  Bilam was a wicked person steeped in sin and impurity, nevertheless he was able to obtain a level of spiritual vision until he became known as a prophet of the gentile nations in the region.  Consequently, as long as a person sees in himself that he’s still far from being as holy as he can be, he needs to be very careful humble himself before Hashem and the Torah, and not to seek greatness and spiritual visions which are beyond his level.  He should just walk in simplicity and ask Hashem to help him leave his low level and to become holier.  He should use his amazing power of choice only for this purpose, and his only intention should be to merit to subdue his evil inclination completely, in order to truly serve Hashem.  This is the opposite approach to Bilam and his followers, who were very strong in their desire to hold onto their wickedness and impurity.  By obtaining high spiritual levels, while staying impure, they wanted to help evil overcome good.  Just like we learned last week about the power of speech, Reb Noson concludes here also regarding this powerful lesson from the story of Bilam that the main principle is to know that we have a lot of power in our speech to express our choice to serve Hashem and to return to Hashem. (Likutei Halachot, Laws of the New Grain, 4th teaching)  Reb Noson adds in another teaching that we learn from the Sages a major principle- the way that a person wants to walk, meaning the way that they want to live their life and the goals which they set for themselves, that is the way they will be led from Heaven.  This is the main aspect of our ability to choose.  (Likutei Halachot, the Laws of Impure Wine, 4th teaching)

Reb Noson tells in Likutei Moharan that somebody once asked Rebbe Nachman how does free choice work?  He answered him simply: Choice is in a person’s hand, if he wants to do something he does it, and if he doesn’t then he doesn’t do it.  Reb Noson adds: I wrote this down for myself, because these words are very important.  There are some people who are very confused about this subject, due to the fact that they have had the same behaviors and actions since they were young, and therefore it seems to them that they don’t have a choice to change their actions, God forbid.  However truthfully this is not the case, because certainly every person always has a choice regarding every matter in their life, and what he wants he does.  Reb Noson concludes, you should understand these words very well. (Likutei Moharan, 110th teaching, Part 2)  Rebbe Nachman also says in Rebbe Nachman’s Wisdom that everything you see in the world is there only for our choice and to challenge us, this is the reason that Hashem created the world. (300th teaching)

We can learn from this teaching about the story of Bilam and how he chose to seek spiritual levels while holding strongly to his wicked ways an important lesson about the choices we make every day in our lives.  Rebbe Nachman stated above that we have the power to choose in everything and every area of life; nevertheless a person can mistakenly think, ‘what can I do, this is who I am.’  Or, ‘I’ve been stuck in this sin or bad habit for twenty years, how can I ever make a change!’  ‘There’s no way out of this situation.’  Truly though, if we really want to change, we have the power to make a better choice in every part of our life!

I’ve mentioned before in these parsha teachings that I’ve been learning this year a book as well as a workshop about breathing and its spiritual and physical healing qualities.  The teacher, Doron, taught us that the environment and the surroundings which we find ourselves in have an influence on us, whether for the good or the opposite.  In Hebrew the word atmosphere comes from the word air.  When we breathe in the air of a place, we are also breathing in the atmosphere and the influences of that place.  Therefore in every moment of our day we should to try to have awareness of how we are feeling and how our surroundings are influencing us, in order to try to choose good in that moment.  If we feel fear for example, we can choose in that moment to take a deep breath and turn to Hashem in prayer to help us face our fear and to know that he is with us; or we can choose to act in a negative manner because we feel fear.  In every moment we have the power to choose.

(The image is courteous of Chabad.org)

Torah Portion

Chukat 5779

chukatThe first chapter of our parsha discusses the mitzvah of the Para Adumah, the red heifer.  This completely red cow was brought as a special sacrifice whose ashes had the power to purify a person who had become impure due to contact with a dead body.  This chapter also talks about the laws of a person who was contaminated in a tent or another type of covering.  “This is the teaching regarding a man who would die in a tent: Anything that enters the tent and anything that is in the tent shall be contaminated for seven days.” (Chapter 19, Verse 14)

The verse above in Hebrew states- זאת התורה אדם…, which literally means this is the Torah (the law, teaching) of a person, etc.  The Sages learned from this verse that a person needs to have self-sacrifice in order to learn and fulfill the Torah.  Therefore, Reb Noson teaches regarding this verse, that a person needs to make himself holier with words of Torah and prayer as much as possible, to the point that his being is nullified before the words of Torah completely.  This means that a person’s physical being is connected and included in the holy words, just like the parchment of the Torah scroll is connected to the letters of the Torah to the point that the parchment and the letters become truly one entity.  The same is true regarding our physical bodies- they need to be connected and included in the words of Torah until the words become imprinted on the body.  When this happens, Reb Noson says, this person becomes holy like the holiness of a Torah scroll, and even more than a sefer Torah.  He himself is like a Torah scroll.  This is the aspect of the verse in Proverbs, “inscribe them (the words of Torah) on the tablet of your heart.” (Chapter 3, Verse 3)  The words of the Torah can become written upon us, just like the letters of the Torah are inscribed onto a Torah scroll. (Liktutei Halachot, Laws of the Synagogue, 4th teaching)

This is an amazingly powerful concept- the more that we speak good words, words of Torah and prayer and faith, the more that they become imprinted into us and purify even our physical being.  We merit to reveal our eternal connection to Hashem and to the Torah.  However, sometimes we are in situations where we feel like we are so far from Hashem and from His Torah.  How can we all relate to this teaching on whatever level or situation which we might find ourselves in?

Rebbe Nachman says in the book Meshivat Nefesh (Restore My Soul) that speech has amazing power to help us find strength.  Even if a person has fallen to a very low place spiritually, nevertheless if he continues even from that low place to speak words of truth, words of Torah and prayer, the holy words that he says will remind him of his eternal connection to Hashem.  This can give a person strength in any situation, even in those places which are very far from holiness.  Our words are the aspect of a mother and her children (Psalms 113, 9th verse).   Just like a mother goes with her children, even to lowly and dirty places, and never forgets about them, so too, a person’s words go with them always, even into very low spiritual places, and they remind him of God.  His words of Torah, faith, and prayer don’t allow him to forget Hashem.  You should understand from this teaching, Rebbe Nachman says, the incredible power of speech.  This is an incredible and awesome piece of advice for a person who truly desires to find Hashem and not lose themselves, God forbid. (21st teaching, Part One)

This past Shabbat I read a powerful teaching together with a friend by Rebbe Nachman about strengthening and encouraging ourselves, the 48th teaching in the second part of Likutei Moharan.  In Breslov tradition the Chassidim call this teaching the Letter, because Rebbe Nachman speaks in a very personal language, something which is uncommon in Likutei Moharan.  He says there that we should know that every effort we’ve made in our lives to come closer to Hashem, they all come to help a person at a time of need, when they are in distress.  Every good desire and every good deed we’ve done are a merit for us, and they help us in times of need.  If every movement and every effort we’ve made to improve ourselves in order to come closer to Hashem comes with us, this is especially true about words of Torah and prayer as we learned above.  Whenever we are in a time of trouble, God forbid, or just struggling spiritually, every word of holiness which we can speak helps us remember that Hashem is with us.  In addition, every good word of Torah and prayer which we have spoken in the past also comes to help us in a time of need.

When we accustom ourselves to speaking words of Torah and prayer on a daily basis, each person on their level, we will begin to see the incredible power of our words also in those situations which seem so difficult.  Even the few words of prayer and faith which we are able to say in those hard times can help us feel Hashem’s love and help.  They remind us that Hashem is always with us, and they will help us see things differently, with eyes of faith, even when we feel like we have fallen so far.

(The image is courteous of Chabad.org)

Torah Portion

Korach 5779

korachWe learn this week about another difficult parsha in the Torah, the rebellion of Korach and his followers against Moshe Rabenu.  After Korach’s initial words, the Torah says: “Moshe heard and fell on his face.  He spoke to Korach and to his entire assembly, saying, ‘In the morning Hashem will make known the one who is His own and the holy one, and He will draw him close to Himself, and whomever He will choose, He will draw close to Himself.”  (Chapter 16, Verses 4 and 5)  In contrast to earlier instances when the people complained about specific problems, in this Parsha there is an outright rebellion against the leadership of Moshe and his brother Aaron. (Artscroll commentary)  What can we learn from this difficult incident?

Rebbe Noson explains that Moshe used the word morning specifically.  Moshe saw that Korach was very persuasive in his argument, so much so that most of the Jewish people were being swayed to follow him.  It seemed to those who were still supporting Moshe that it was impossible to stand up against him.  Therefore Moshe said: “In the morning Hashem will make known…”  Every day the truth overcomes falsehood, because every day Hashem renews in His goodness the act of creation, the sun rises again from the East, etc.  The main aspect of spiritual light is the truth, which is Hashem himself.  The morning light represents the light of truth.  Hashem is the essence of truth, as King David says: “Hashem is my light and my salvation…” (Tehillim, Chapter 27, Verse 1)  (Likutei Halachot, Laws of Kashering Vessels, 4th teaching)

Rebbe Noson adds in another teaching that sometimes there is a person who elevates himself and wants to lead the Jewish people, claiming that his intentions are pure; however, in truth, he is trapped by arrogance.  This was the case with Korach.  His argument against Moshe and Aaron stemmed from arrogance, he was jealous of their leadership and their greatness.  Therefore Moshe said to him: “In the morning Hashem will make known…”  Rashi explains that Moshe was saying to Korach, ‘Hashem made boundaries in His world, day and night, etc., and you want to turn everything upside down.’  Korach claimed that he had the best intentions of the Jewish people in mind, and he even accused Moshe and Aaron of arrogance, G-d forbid, as the verse says: “why do you exalt yourselves over the congregation of Hashem?” (Verse 3)  Therefore, Reb Noson says we need a lot of help from Hashem to distinguish the truth, to distinguish between darkness and light.  (Likutei Halachot, Laws of Tefillin, 6th teaching)

Korach was blinded by arrogance and falsehood.  Rebbe Nachman says in a very clear and powerful way in Lesson 51 in the first part of Likutei Moharan that lies are evil and they come from the side of impurity.  When a person lies they remove from themselves God’s providence, because as we learned above truth is the light of Hashem.  However, by living a life of truth and speaking the truth, Hashem’s divine providence is with a person entirely.  Truth is one of the attributes that Rebbe Nachman said everything depends on.

A major principal which I learned at the workshop Shakuf was opening up and sharing and telling the truth.  The whole truth.  The teacher there taught that when something is left in the darkness, that causes negativity and even evil to become stronger.  When we hide something from the past, an incident or a negative emotion, it doesn’t disappear, it just gets buried inside.  However, when we speak the truth we bring Hashem into the picture, and we shed light on things from the recent or distant past which we had kept in the darkness.  We feel a feeling of relief that we have returned this part of our past to the light of Hashem.  Many times we have a voice which says, ‘That part of your past, that incident you can never tell anyone!’  We never truly want to lie, we lie because we are afraid of what will be revealed when we tell the whole story or because we are afraid of facing a certain feeling.  There are things which we might be hiding even from ourselves.  However, the more that we work on being truthful and real, whether about our past or in the moment, so to the fears begin to fade away.  Part of the learning and personal development we experienced at the workshop was meeting with a counselor once a week for an hour, as well as participating in a one hour group meeting.  In these meetings the goal was to share in a real and open way about whatever was going on in our lives at the time, an issue, relationship or emotion that we wanted to work on, in order to understand ourselves better and what Hashem was trying to teach us.

In personal prayer and with the help of our spouse or a good friend, we need to practice being truthful and real.  It can be painful at times but this is how we return to the light of Hashem.  This is also how we really want to be- basking in the light of truth!

(The image is courteous of Chabad.org)