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)
GO OUT OF THE ARK, YOU AND YOUR WIFE, AND YOUR SONS, AND YOUR SONS' WIVES WITH YOU. EVERY LIVING THING THAT IS WITH YOU OF ALL FLESH, OF FOWL, AND OF ANIMALS AND OF ALL THE CREEPING THINGS THAT CREEP ON THE EARTH, BRING OUT WITH YOU... (BERAISHIS 8:16-17)
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)
AND ONLY NOACH AND THOSE WITH HIM IN THE ARK SURVIVED. (BERAISHIS 7:23)
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.

Bracing for Change

הַקְהֵל אֶת הָעָם הָאֲנָשִׁים וְהַנָּשִׁים וְהַטַּף וְגֵרְךָ אֲשֶׁר בִּשְׁעָרֶיךָ לְמַעַן יִשְׁמְעוּ וּלְמַעַן יִלְמְדוּ וְיָרְאוּ אֶת ה' אֱלֹהֵיכֶם וְשָׁמְרוּ לַעֲשׂוֹת אֶת כָּל דִּבְרֵי הַתּוֹרָה הַזֹּאת: (דברים לא, יב)
ASSEMBLE THE PEOPLE: THE MEN, THE WOMEN, & THE CHILDREN, AND YOUR STRANGER IN YOUR CITIES, IN ORDER THAT THEY HEAR, AND IN ORDER THAT THEY LEARN AND FEAR G-D, YOUR G-D, AND THEY WILL OBSERVE TO DO ALL THE WORDS OF THIS TORAH. (DEVARIM 31:12)

Hakhel is observed every seven years, in the year following Shemitah. Why then did Moshe not teach it in tandem with the laws of Shemitah, much earlier in the Torah? Why did Moshe instruct Bnei Yisrael about Hakhel only in his final directives to Yehoshua before passing away?
The placement and timing of this command indicate that the necessity of Hakhel was due to the change that Bnei Yisrael were about to experience. The future observance of Hakhel was announced specifically as they prepared to enter the Land of Israel, for its observance was directly related to entering the Land of Israel, even more so than other Mitzvos which are technically only observed in the Land of Israel.
The Rambam (Chagigah 3:6) describes the purpose of Hakhel:
"To concentrate their attention and direct their hearing, listening with reverence and awe, rejoicing while trembling as on the day the Torah was given at Sinai. …Scripture established it solely to strengthen the true faith. He should see himself as if he was just now commanded regarding the Torah and heard it from the Almighty."
This periodic re-experiencing of the Giving of the Torah was not necessary when Bnei Yisrael were living in the very circumstances in which the Torah was given – the desert, and led by the very leader who delivered the Torah to them – Moshe. Moshe taught the mitzvah of Hakhel only as he prepared Bnei Yisrael for the change of leadership and the drastic change of lifestyle and surroundings which they would experience upon entering the Land of Israel. Even in circumstances that did not resemble those of the original revelation, the observance of Hakhel would enable Bnei Yisrael to remember and be inspired by the awesome experience of Matan Torah.

Two Steps instead of Twelve

The Rambam writes that the stirring sounds of the Shofar convey the following message: ‘Be roused, sleepers, from your sleep, and slumberers, wake from your slumber; search your deeds and return in teshuvah...' (Laws of Teshuva 3:4).
A careful analysis of the Rambam's words shows that the path to Teshuva is a two-step process: one is to arouse and wake from the sleep or slumber, and the second to search your deeds.
While asleep, and especially if in a deep slumber, one has no urge to disturb his sweet sleep and awaken.  The same is true of someone who is spiritually asleep, unaware and unconcerned about his spiritual state and conduct. In this state, he is uninterested in disturbing his peaceful and complacent attitude toward life at all. Therefore, his first step must be to shake out of his reverie and take heed to his spiritual condition.
In order to truly "return in Teshuva", however, this general arousal must be taken to the next step, to "search your deeds". For the Teshuva resolve to be complete and successful, namely, to be determined to never again transgress G-d's will,ד one must be aware and take particular notice of the specific areas in which he has failed in the past. Having shown a propensity to succumb to those temptations, he must be especially vigilant and make particular and strong resolutions in those areas, to enable himself to resist falling through again in the issues with which he struggled in the past.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Being Kind by Accident

כִּי תִקְצֹר קְצִירְךָ בְשָׂדֶךָ וְשָׁכַחְתָּ עֹמֶר בַּשָּׂדֶה לֹא תָשׁוּב לְקַחְתּוֹ לַגֵּר לַיָּתוֹם וְלָאַלְמָנָה יִהְיֶה לְמַעַן יְבָרֶכְךָ ה' אֱלֹהֶיךָ בְּכֹל מַעֲשֵׂה יָדֶיךָ (דברים כד, יט)
WHEN YOU REAP YOUR HARVEST IN YOUR FIELD AND FORGET A BUNDLE IN THE FIELD, YOU SHALL NOT GO BACK TO TAKE IT; IT SHALL BE FOR THE STRANGER, THE ORPHAN, AND THE WIDOW, SO THAT G-D, YOUR G-D, WILL BLESS YOU IN ALL THAT YOU DO. (DEVARIM 24:19)
So that He will bless you - even though this Mitzvah came to your hand without intention… It can hence be said: if a sela-coin dropped from one's hand, and a poor man found it and was sustained by it, then he who lost the coin will be blessed on its account. —Rashi


A reward seems most appropriate for someone whose kindness is altruistic. Perhaps one could even be rewarded for good deeds that they did by choice, even if for ulterior motives. But why should someone be credited and blessed for his money going to charity by accident without his direct involvement at all?
We find similarly that someone who was physically forced to agree to fulfill a Torah obligation, is reckoned by the Halacha as having done so "willingly". The Rambam (Geirushin 2:20) explains that "it is the genuine and sincere desire of every Jew to observe all themitzvos and to avoid all the prohibitions and it only his evil inclination that coerces him otherwise." This desire to obey G-d's will is rooted in the essence of the Jewish soul, which transcends even the conscious mind. Therefore, even if one seems forced to do a mitzvah, or his conscious motive is not the purest, what truly motivates him is the "sincere desire of every Jew to observe all themitzvos".
The same can be said of a mitzvah fulfilled accidentally. Chassidus explains that the soul's essence transcends its conscious mind, and can therefore influence the person's deeds even subconsciously. Even when a Jew unknowingly drops a coin, it is possible that his body was driven to do so by his essential desire to give charity, a desire which transcends even his conscious mind. If it is then found by someone in need, the donor's inner desire to donate to tzedaka is thus fulfilled.  He is therefore credited with this mitzvah although he may be entirely "unaware" that he even dropped the coin.
—Sefer Hamaamarim Melukat (Torahs Menachem) vol. 1, p 243