Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Village or City?

Several verses in the books of Devarim (3:4-5, 14) and Yehoshua (13:30) speak of as many as sixty (!) cities included in Yair's territory. Why then does the Torah speak only of villages conquered by and named for Yair?
A few verses earlier, the Torah mentions that Bnei Yisrael renamed cities which were previously named for idols and idolatry. The commentaries (see Rabbeinu Bechaye) explain that this was in fact the motive of the tribes who asked to settle in the lush lands of Sichon and Og: to prevent these agriculturally attractive areas from being repopulated by idol-worshippers who would dedicate these cities to pagan deities once again. Instead, the tribes of Reuven, Gad and Menasheh capitalized on the opportunity to occupy these cities with service of G-d, and to annul the idolatry which previously occupied this space by changing its name and identity.
By referring to the areas that Yair conquered as villages, the Torah alludes to this transformation. Chazal (see Chagigah 13b, Rashi ad loc.) contrast the reaction of one who lives in a metropolis or capital city upon seeing the king, with the way a villager reacts and reports it. For the urbanite, the king and his entourage are a common sight. For the villager who is unfamiliar with seeing royalty, this is exciting and novel.
Therefore, the Torah emphasizes that Yair conquered “villages” and called them “Villages of Yair”. For Yair’s line of work was marked by the villager-like constant excitement of the King of Kings making His appearance in places where until then He was relatively unknown.
—Likutei Sichos vol. 38, pp. 120-121

Friday, July 11, 2014

Playing G-d

וְהָיְתָה לּוֹ וּלְזַרְעוֹ אַחֲרָיו בְּרִית כְּהֻנַּת עוֹלָם תַּחַת אֲשֶׁר קִנֵּא לֵאלֹקָיו (במדבר כה, יג)
Pinchas zealously punished the prince of Shimon for cohabiting with a non-Jewish woman. Pinchas’ actions are reckoned as being “zealousfor his G-d”; as paraphrased by Rashi, G-d rewards Pinchas for “avenging My vengeance, by releasing the wrath that I should have released.”
What makes this sin a more direct offense to G-d that any other?
“There are three partners in the creation of a human,” says the Talmud (Niddah 31a), “a father, mother, and G-d;” for the ability to reproduce and cause the continuous regeneration of the species is an expression of G-d’s infinity.  When sinning with a non-Jewish woman, the Jew’s infinite G-dly power of reproduction is being tapped, invested andcommitted to that which is the opposite of its G-dly purpose.
When a Jew transgresses, G-d forbid, on any of G-d’s commandments, he consciously tears himself away from G-d momentarily – but he remains a Jew. Even when one has an illegitimate child, giving the sinful act a long-term presence in this world, yet that child is a Jew. A child born from a non-Jewish woman, however, is not a Jew. With this sin, the natural border which G-d created between Jew and non-Jew is breached. The G-dly reproductive abilities of a Jew are being converted and recast as a non-Jewish body.
In light of the above, Pinchas’ reward of kehunah can also be explained. Kohen status is a non-transferable reality, compared elsewhere in the words of Rashi (Bamidbar 16:5) to the difference between day and night. For avenging G-d’s vengeance at the prohibited transfer of the G-dly power of reproduction, for decrying that unlawful breach in the borders of nature, nature was breached for Pinchas too and he was rewarded with kehunah for him and his future descendants.
—Likutei Sichos vol. 8, pp. 153-156

Friday, June 13, 2014

Weekly Newsletter

Angel or Man

וְשָׁם רָאִינוּ אֶת הַנְּפִילִים בְּנֵי עֲנָק מִן הַנְּפִלִים (במדבר יג, לג)
There we saw the giants, the sons of Anak, descended from the giants. (Bamidbar 13:33)
Nephilim:נְפִילִים, giants, descended from Shamchazai and Azael, who fell (שֶׁנָּפְלוּ)from heaven in the generation of Enosh. –Rashi
The Midrash relates that when the generation of the Flood went astray, there arose two angels, Shamchazai and Azael, who suggested before G-d that they could exchange the corrupt humans in fulfilling the world’s purpose. Said G-d: “It is known and revealed to Me that if you dwelled upon earth the Evil Inclination would dominate you, but you would be even worse than the sons of man.” Sure enough, as soon as the angels descended and saw the beautiful “daughters of man,” they became corrupted and sinned with them.
It was these giant nephilim and their descendants whom the spies reported seeing, but not only to frighten the Jewish nation of the giants’ strength and might. This was part of the spies general concern about leaving the desert and settling in the Land of Canaan. As explained in Chassidus, the spies feared that the preoccupation with material concerns that awaited Bnei Yisrael would be distracting and detrimental to the spiritual heights and achievements to which they had become accustomed in the desert. The mention of the nephilim, angels who succumbed and fell through interaction with the material world, served to emphasize and prove this prediction to be accurate.
“Not so!” said Yehoshua and Calev. “If G-d desires us, He will bring us to this land and give it to us… G-d is with us; do not fear them (14:8-9)!”
Angles may have failed upon descending into the material world, but for a Jew this story would have a very different ending. For “G-d desires us”, G-d’s greatest delight is in the physical Jew and his Divine worship while in the lowliest of worlds. Therefore, G-d imbues the Jew with capabilities that are incomparably greater than those of an angel. Before G-d Himself, the molding of paradoxes and opposites obviously presents no challenge. Likewise, “G-d is with us”! Within each Jew is a “a veritable part of G-d Above (Tanya, Chapter 2)”, enabling him to fuse his spiritual climb with his materially preoccupied lifestyle. Moreover, he will also infuse the physical world with G-dliness, transforming it to be the prefect home within which G-d would reside and be revealed.
Likutei Sichos vol. 28, pp. 91-92

See & Remember

וְהָיָה לָכֶם לְצִיצִת וּרְאִיתֶם אֹתוֹ וּזְכַרְתֶּם אֶת כָּל מִצְוֹת ה' וַעֲשִׂיתֶם אֹתָם (במדבר טו, לט)
This tassel shall be for you: when you see it, you will remember all the commandments of G-d, and perform them. (Bamidbar 15:39)
Rashi explains that the numerical value of the word צִיצִית is 600. Add 8 for the number of threads on each corner, plus 5 for the number of knots tied on each tassel, for a total of 613. The sight of the tzitzis tassels therefore reminds us of all G-d’s 613 commandments. This explains the meaning of the tzitzis, but what then is the significance of them specifically being strung from a garment, a tallis?
The difference between clothing and food, two of our most basic human needs, is that the food we eat becomes absorbed within us, whereas the clothing we wear enwraps us, but remains external and above our flesh and skin. Clothing therefore represents, in terms of the spiritual lesson to be applied from it, that which remains above our intellect and beyond our comprehension.
Without being strung from a tallis, a garment, tzitzis strings alone do not constitute a mitzvah, for they do not remind us of the mitzvos at all. For the fundamental principle of the 613 mitzvos is that they stem from G-d’s incomprehensible will, and are not contingent on or defined by human thought processes and understanding. The 613 commandments are therefore only represented by tzitzis strung from a tallis, to remind us to obediently fulfill the 613 mitzvos, 613 extensions of G-d’s transcendent and unfathomable will.
Likutei Sichos vol. 2, pp. 324-325

Good Intentions

וַיִּהְיוּ בְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל בַּמִּדְבָּר וַיִּמְצְאוּ אִישׁ מְקֹשֵׁשׁ עֵצִים בְּיוֹם הַשַּׁבָּת (במדבר טו, לב)
And when Bnei Yisrael were in the desert, they found a man gathering wood on the Shabbos day. (Bamidbar 15:32)
Tosfos (Bava Basra 119b) quotes a Midrash that “the wood gatherer” had noble motivations for violating the Shabbos. For the people had been saying that since it had been decreed that they would not enter the Land due to the incident of the Spies, they are no longer obligated to keep themitzvos. He therefore violated the Shabbos, in order to show the others, through his execution, that the commandments were still in full effect.
Outwardly, the wood gatherer’s activity perfectly fit the bill of the forbidden. Considering however, that his intentions were solely to prove his point, he was technically not in violation of the Shabbos. For according to one opinion in the Mishna, “activity that is not needed for itself” (as in the case of one who digs a pit because he wants the soil, but has no use for the actual pit,) does not constitute melachah that is in violation of Shabbos. For only when the forbidden activity is itself deliberate and constructiveis it Biblically prohibited. Nevertheless, G-d instructed that the human court execute him, for intentions that remain strictly in the heart with no practical bearing on one’s actions can not be taken into Halachic consideration.
The demonstration and resolution of this Halachic conundrum served as a response to the mistaken assumption that those destined to remain in the desert were exempt from Mitzvah obligations.
As explained in Chassidus, the spies had been hesitant to enter the Land of Israel where the primary preoccupation of Bnei Yisrael would shift from the study of Torah, a primarily cerebral activity, toward the specifically physical performance of the mitzvos. Thus, when it was decreed that they would remain in the desert, the people reasoned that this was an indication that their generation was indeed not ordained or ready for a service of G-d primarily based on deed.
The wood gatherer, whose actions were permissible in the world of thought and intentions, yet accountable and punished in the realm of action proved this way of thinking to be mistaken. For even in the desert, it is the practical and physical aspect of the mitzvos through which we primarily connect to G-d.
Likutei Sichos vol. 28, pp. 94-97


רֵאשִׁית עֲרִסֹתֵכֶם חַלָּה תָּרִימוּ תְרוּמָה ...תִּתְּנוּ לַה’ תְּרוּמָה (במדבר טו, כ-כא)
The beginning of your dough, you shall separate challah - a loaf… a gift to G-d… (Bamidbar 15:20-21)
The mitzvah of separating challah is followed in the Torah by the prohibition of idol worship. According to the Midrash, this teaches that “one who fulfills the mitzvah of challah, is as though he has abolished idol worship; while one who does not fulfill the mitzvah of challah, is as though he sustained idol worship.” How is the simple act of separating a piece of dough related to this cardinal law which is the foundation of our entire faith?!
The most basic staple of human sustenance, bread comes to be only after a long and laborious process from its planting to its baking. Bread thus represents our toil and efforts to provide for our needs and survival through a process that seems to be entirely “natural” and commensurate with our efforts. By separating “the beginning of your dough” as a gift to G-d we acknowledge, however, that all of our natural effort “doesn’t even begin” – as the phrase goes – to generate our income. Rather, it is G-d’s blessing that initiates and brings our natural success into existence.
Idolatry at its core is not only the worship of another deity, but even the mistaken belief in the existence of any power that is independent of G-d, even at G-d’s will. This applies not only to the powers of nature, rather even the belief that any entity functions or exists independent and apart from G-d contradicts our belief that “there is nothing besides for Him (Devarim 4:35)”.
By separating challah, acknowledging and announcing to the world that no power of nature or human effort exists outside of G-d, we expose and debunk the mistaken “theory of idol worship”.
Likutei Sichos vol. 18, pp. 183-185