Thursday, October 30, 2014

Zayin Cheshvan-Returning Home

The seventh day of the Jewish month of MarCheshvan, Zayin MarCheshvan, always falls in the week that follows the Shabbos whose Torah portion is Noach. As known, the days of the week are connected to the Shabbos that precedes them, that Shabbos being the source of their blessing. Consequently, the theme of Zayin MarCheshvan is connected with those themes found in the section of Noach.Zayin MarCheshvan is the day when Jews in Eretz Yisrael begin "to ask for rain; fifteen days after the festival [of Sukkos.]" For during the time of the Beis HaMikdash, Jews made a thrice-yearly pilgrimage to the Beis HaMikdash: for Pesach, Shavuos and Sukkos. Even the pilgrim who lived at the farthest boundary of Eretz Yisrael and had the greatest distance to travel back home from Jerusalem after spending Sukkos there, had already returned home by Zayin MarCheshvan and wouldn't be inconvenienced by the rain that was now being prayed for.
Thus, from the day following the festival up until Zayin MarCheshvan, the spiritual state of ascent enjoyed by the Jewish people during their pilgrimage still continued. Beginning with Zayin MarCheshvan, all the Jews were already home and thus in a state of spiritual descent relative to their lofty state while in Jerusalem, where they came face to face with G-d. Still, a Jew must continuously rise from level to level in holiness, and it therefore follows that the Jewish people's subsequent spiritual station after returning home from Jerusalem possessed a quality superior even to that of their spiritual state during their pilgrimage. But how can one attain a greater measure of holiness after the pilgrimage - upon one's return home - than that which was attained when one came "face to face" - as it were - with G-d in the Beis HaMikdash? This will be understood in light of what the Jew occupied himself with upon his return home. Involved in agricultural matters (as most Jews were during those times), he was able to perform the agricultural commandments relating to Eretz Yisrael, as well as drawing down holiness within all his physical affairs. This is something he was incapable of doing while he was on pilgrimage in Jerusalem and in the Beis HaMikdash. This manner of serving G-d through one's involvement in the material world - as opposed to one's total spiritual involvement while in Jerusalem - accomplishes a two-fold elevation, both with regard to the person himself, as well as with regard to the physical objects with which he occupies himself: Our Sages tell us that "G-d passionately desired to have a dwelling place in the lowest realm," i.e., in this physical world. We accomplish this by performing mitzvos with material objects, particularly those commandments that relate to the earth itself. A Jew makes a dwelling for G-d in the nethermost level, drawing down G-d's sanctity and permeating the physical with holiness, when he takes physical things, in and of themselves not sacred objects per se, and performs a mitzvah with them, thereby transforming these objects into mitzvah-objects and sacred objects.So, too, with regard to the person himself. While on pilgrimage in Jerusalem and in the Beis HaMikdash the Jew is not that immersed in his service with material matters - the "nethermost levels." For while in Jerusalem the person is in a place that is intrinsically holy, and as such he is mostly occupied with sacred matters. Indeed, his primary spiritual service in Jerusalem consists of presenting himself before and beholding G-d.A Thus, it is specifically on Zayin MarCheshvan, when the Jew returns to his home, that he begins to express the quality and merit of a personal spiritual service that involves elevating the actual lowliest levels of this material world. And it is specifically upon his return home that the Jew becomes G-d's emissary, the entity that makes possible the fulfillment of G-d's desire that He have a dwelling in the nethermost levels - something he cannot accomplish (to such an extent) while in Jerusalem. Additionally, the manner of service while at home - interacting with the physical for a spiritual purpose - transforms the physical objects themselves, so that they become the actual dwelling for G-d in this most nethermost world. In light of the above explanation of the importance of Zayin MarCheshvan and the crucial role it plays in transforming the entire physical world into a dwelling for G-d, we can understand the relationship of Zayin MarCheshvan to the portion of Noach.
The commentators explain the intent and sin that took place at the Tower of Bavel in the following manner: There was a desire on the part of many that the entire world's population live in one place. They therefore desired to build a city and tower that would unite the world's population in one locale. This, however, was at odds with G-d's desire of "filling the world, and conquering it,[9]" that G-d's request of "settling [all of] creation" be achieved throughout the entire world, not only in one location.
This is also why G-d commanded Noach to "Leave the Ark ... and fill the earth." In the Ark, all men and animals were confined to one narrow space. G-d's intent, however, is for the entire world to be "filled," so that the whole world is transformed into a dwelling place for G-d. And this, of course, is what Zayin MarCheshvan is all about.

What's for Dinner?

‬וַיָּבֹא הַפָּלִיט וַיַּגֵּד לְאַבְרָם הָעִבְרִי (בראשית יד, יג)
The fugitive was Og. Why was he called Og? Because when he came, he found Avram busy with the mitzvah of ugos, cakes [as matzah is called in Shemos 12:39. – ed.] Og's intentions were not for the sake of Heaven. Rather, he thought, "This Avram is a zealot. I'll tell him, ‘your nephew has been taken captive' and he will go out to war and get killed. Then I will take Sarai, his wife." 
Og's encounter with Avram while the latter was fulfilling themitzvah of Matzah played a critical role in molding Og's plans. That is why the Midrash states two seemingly unrelated facts about Og's name and his motives in immediate succession.
Matzah is called "food of faith" in the Zohar. Avram's engrossment in this faith-building activity reflected his super-rational commitment to G-d, a relationship that focused more on faith than on reason. 
Such a person, reasoned Og, is radical, and capable of behaving totally irrationally. Og was therefore certain that, despite the obvious risks and questionable outcome, Avram would unreasonably jeopardize his own life to try and save his nephew.
It was thus the Matzah that led Og to conclude that if he shares with Avram that Lot had been taken captive, it would create a perfect opportunity to take this fanatic's beautiful wife as his own.

The Nice Bad Guy

‬וַיָּבֹא הַפָּלִיט וַיַּגֵּד לְאַבְרָם הָעִבְרִי (בראשית יד, יג)
The fugitive was Og. Why was he called Og? Because when he came, he found Avram busy with the mitzvah of ugos, cakes [as matzah is called in Shemos 12:39. – ed.] Og's intentions were not for the sake of Heaven. Rather, he thought, "This Avram is a zealot. I'll tell him, ‘your nephew has been taken captive' and he will go out to war and get killed. Then I will take Sarai, his wife." —Beraishis Rabba 42
Og was a rationalist and a cynic (see Beraishis Rabba 53), but he could still respect humanitarian causes based on rhyme and reason. So it wasn't surprising that he'd encourage Avram to save his own flesh and blood from captivity.
Yet, at their root, Og's motives were entirely impure. For though the cause was justified and logical, Og knew that it was unreasonable to think that Avram could be victorious over the mighty kings who had taken Lot captive. Og played on Avram's zealous nature, encouraging him to take on a veritably suicidal mission, trusting that Avram would never return and Sarai would then be his for the taking.
From Og we learn that human reason is naturally selfish and dangerous. One who is guided and motivated only by human logic can justify having another person killed in order to take that person's wife, and all the while fool himself into thinking that he's doing the right and reasonable thing.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Real Life

צֵא מִן הַתֵּבָה אַתָּה וְאִשְׁתְּךָ וּבָנֶיךָ וּנְשֵׁי בָנֶיךָ אִתָּךְ: כָּל הַחַיָּה אֲשֶׁר אִתְּךָ מִכָּל בָּשָׂר בָּעוֹף וּבַבְּהֵמָה וּבְכָל הָרֶמֶשׂ הָרֹמֵשׂ עַל הָאָרֶץ הוצא אִתָּךְ (בראשית ח, טז-יז)
If they do not wish to come out, take them out! —Rashi
In his prophecies of the Messianic era, Yeshayahu (11:6) describes how "the wolf shall live with the lamb, and a leopard shall lie with a young goat…and a small child shall lead them…"
A similar atmosphere prevailed in Noach's ark, where even the most fierce and predatory animals stayed confined in tiny quarters for an entire year, and were controlled by only Noach and his few family members! Chassidus explains that the extraordinary Divine revelation that was felt in the ark, comparable in nature to the revelations of the era of Moshiach, brought about peace between all the ark's occupants. This remarkable feeling of G-d's presence overwhelmed and changed the natures of the animals, causing even the ferocious animals of prey to become peaceful and approachable.
This explains why Noach was alerted that he might have toforcibly remove the animals! One would imagine that after spending a year cooped up in Noach's ark the animals would be more than happy to leave! Yet, in fact, the ark's cramped conditions set the stage for a taste of the utopian era of Moshiach, from which the animals were not at all eager to part.
—Likutei Sichos vol. 25, pp. 28-31

Your "Own" Abnegation (Self Sacrifice)

וַיִּשָּׁאֶר אַךְ-נֹחַ וַאֲשֶׁר אִתּוֹ בַּתֵּבָה (בראשית ז, כג)
He was groaning and spitting blood because of the burden of tending to the cattle and the beasts, and some say that he delayed feeding the lion, and it struck him… —Rashi
In our holy task of providing the world with its spiritual sustenance, we must take a lesson from Noach's devotion to tending to the needs of his passengers and dependents, the animal kingdom. Despite his saintliness and piety, Noach devoted himself tirelessly to the menial job of feeding the animals, unabated even by the detriment this caused to his physical health. We, too, must not be put off by any difficulty that we face in our job of bringing the Torah's message of G-dliness and holiness to the entire world. We must approach this task with a readiness to sacrifice all our personal comforts for our mission, "groaning and spitting blood" if necessary.
At the same time, however, we must learn from Noach not to impose this "readiness for discomfort" on others. Noach was punished for delaying the lion's food, to teach us that while we must readily sacrifice our own comforts for the success of this vital and lofty goal, the next person's needs, or even conveniences, are not ours to sacrifice or even delay.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Happy Birthday World

The world was created on the 25th of Elul. Though we refer to Rosh HaShanah as "the day of the beginning of Your works" in our prayers, that is because Adam was created on that day. The entire world was created for him, [so that he could establish a connection between the world and G-d]. Thus, on the day of his creation, he was able to motivate the entire creation to "come, bow, and prostrate ourselves before G-d, our Maker." Nevertheless, it was on the 25th of Elul that the world was created. Indeed, time itself begins from that day.
Likkutei Torah associates this concept with our Sages' statement: "All the prophets began their prophecies with äï (gematria 25) "So the L-rd has spoken;" Moshe began his prophecies, "This is the word of G-d."[276]
The difference between "So" and "This" is that stating "this" implies that the person actually sees the subject he is speaking about. To quote our Sages, "he can point his finger and say, 'This is it.' " In contrast, "So" implies that one does not actually see the subject which one is talking about. Though one perceives it, the perception is not through actual sight.
These two levels are reflected in the creation of man. The Torah relates that man was created, "in our form and in our image." "Our form" means possessing the form of G-d (equivalent to the level of "This"). "Our image" refers to a lower level, something which resembles G-dliness (the level of "So").
This characterizes the difference between the 25th of Elul and Rosh HaShanah. The creation of the entire world on Rosh HaShanah is related to the level of "our image." In contrast, on Rosh HaShanah, the inner intent and the "soul" of the entire creation was revealed with the creation of man. The Torah begins Bereishis implying that the world was created for two entities which are called "first," Israel and the Torah. This is equivalent to the level "our form."
The concept of creation is relevant to each person as an individual. Indeed, man was created alone -- in contrast to the other creatures who were created in pairs -- to teach each one of us that we are obligated to say, "The world was created for me;" i.e., that the responsibility for the entire world is his as an individual. Accordingly, the above concept must produce a lesson[277] in our service of G-d.
The two levels, "our form" and "our image," are also reflected in the Torah and in the mitzvos. There are some mitzvos, for example the mitzvos associated with the Beis HaMikdash, which in the time of exile can only be fulfilled in a manner of "our image." Though "our lips compensate for [the sacrifice of] bulls," i.e., our study of these laws is equivalent to the fulfillment of the mitzvos, this is not the full dimension of the mitzvos' performance. There are other laws which even in the time of exile can be fulfilled in a complete manner, "our form."
It is appropriate that in the month of Elul, the month of stock-taking, that we think over whether we have fulfilled these services in the fullest degree possible. Through the complete fulfillment of both of these services in the time of exile, we will merit the building of the Beis HaMikdash in the Messianic Era when we will fulfill both these services on a higher level.