Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Nine Days

The first nine days of the month ofAv, and also the morning of the tenth,1 are days of acute mourning for the destruction of the first and second Holy Temples.
During this time, we don’t:
  • Eat meat or drink wine, for during this period the sacrifices and wine libations in the Holy Temple ceased.2The exceptions to this rule are meat and wine consumed on Shabbat or as part of a meal that celebrates amitzvah, such as a circumcision, bar mitzvah, or the completion of a tractate of the Talmud.
  • Launder clothing (except for a baby’s)—even if they will not be worn during the Nine Days—or wear freshly laundered outer clothing.3 Those who wish to change their clothing daily should prepare a number of garments and briefly don each of them before the onset of the Nine Days. Then it is permitted to wear these “non-freshly laundered” garments during the Nine Days.
  • Swim or bathe for pleasure.
  • Remodel or expand a home.
  • Plant trees to be used for shade or fragrance (as opposed to fruit trees).
  • Buy, sew, weave or knit new clothing—even if they will be worn only after the Nine Days.
    Exceptions to this rule: (a) If you will miss a major sale, or if the garment will be unavailable later. (b) For the purpose of a mitzvah, such as purchasing new clothing for a bride and groom.
  • Cut nails during the actual week of the fast of Tisha B’Av—i.e., starting from the Saturday night before the fast until the conclusion of the Nine Days.
  • The Sephardic custom is to observe the stringencies regarding meat, wine and bathing only in the week of Tisha B’Av.
    Some more observances:
    • The Sanctification of the Moon is postponed until after Tisha B’Av.
    • There is no law forbidding traveling during the Nine Days; however, it is customary to refrain from traveling (or engaging in any potentially perilous activity) during these days, unless it is absolutely necessary.
    • One may become engaged to be married during this period, but no celebration should be held until after Tisha B’Av.
    Note: All these restrictions are in addition to the restrictions that apply during all of the Three Weeks.

    Shabbat Chazon

    The Shabbat preceding the Ninth of Av is called Shabbat Chazon—“Shabbat of the Vision.” This Shabbat’s reading from the Prophets begins with the wordsChazon Yeshayahu, the “vision of Isaiah” regarding the destruction of the Holy Temple. The legendary chassidic master Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev said that on this special Shabbat, every Jewish soul is shown a vision of the third Holy Temple. The purpose of this vision is to arouse within every Jew a yearning to actually see this edifice which will be built by G‑d, and to do as many mitzvotas possible in order to realize this dream. While this vision may not be sensed with the physical eyes, the soul certainly experiences this vision, and it affects the person on the subconscious level.
    There is no mourning on Shabbat
  • If We try to moderate the sadness through participating in permissible celebrationspossible, this week’s havdalah wine or grape juice should be given to a child—younger than bar/bat mitzvah age—to drink.
  • When the month of Av enters, we reduce our joy . . .”
    —Talmud, Taanit 26b
    The entire month of Av is considered to be an inopportune time for Jews. Our sages advised that a Jew who is scheduled to have a court hearing—or anything of a similar nature—against a gentile during this month should try to postpone it until after Av, or at least until after the Nine Days.
    On the positive side, as we get closer and closer to the messianic era, when these days will be transformed from days of sadness to days of joy, we start to focus on the inner purpose of the destruction, which is to bring us to a higher level of sensitivity and spirituality, and ultimately to the rebuilding—with even greater grandeur and glory—of all that was destroyed.
    We therefore try to moderate the sadness through participating in permissible celebrations. It is therefore the Chabad custom to have someone complete a tractate of the Talmud each day of the Nine Days, in order to infuse these days with permissible joy.

War of Words

For forty years in the desert, the primary occupation of Bnei Yisrael was the study of Torah. The battles against their enemies were fought through supernatural means: “As the Aron travels… Your enemies shall scatter and your haters shall flee (Bamidbar 10:35)”.
Now, Bnei Yisrael stood poised to conquer the Land of Israel from the seven gentile nations who lived there, which would take (seven years of) physical fighting and warfare. For what purpose did Moshe translate the Torah into seventy languages at this point? How was translating the Torah necessary or relevant for the phase that Bnei Yisrael were about to enter?
The answer is that by translating the Torah, Moshe was taking a critical part in the conquest of the seven nations who occupied the Land of Israel.
For everything that transpires in the physical world has a spiritual source. Success at our endeavors in the physical world begins through change affected in the spiritual realm. According to the Kabbala, the seven nations who occupied the Land of Israel are the collective source of all seventy nations of the world. By bringing the Torah into all seventy languages, breaching the language barrierbetween the Torah and the seventy nations, Moshe began the spiritual conquest of all the nations of the world.
Now that Moshe achieved this spiritual victory, Bnei Yisrael were ready to deliver a physical victory as well.
—Sichos Kodesh 5730 vol. 1, Parshas Va’eira

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