Tag Archives: Torah

Chanukah: Restoring Our Temple, Returning to One

CandlesRebbe Nachman, as recorded in Likutei Eitzos, Chanukah, makes a somewhat enigmatic statement: the selach na (“please forgive”s) that we utter on Yom Kippur enable us to partake of the holiness of Chanukah.

What is the connection?

In Likutei Moharan Tinyana 7:11, the Rebbe relates to the interaction between G-d and Moshe Rabbenu during the aftermath of the sin of the spies.  Moshe Rabbenu says to G-d, “please forgive this people for their sin in Your great kindness”.   In this case, Moshe Rabbenu was not only relating to the sin of speaking lashon hora about Eretz Yisrael, thereby causing an epidemic of bad faith amongst the Children of Israel; instead, he took the long view, and considered the sin in terms of its ultimate consequence: the future destruction of the Holy Temple.  The gemara (Taanis 29) states, “Hashem, may He be blessed, said to them, ‘you cried a crying for no reason.  I will establish a crying for all generations’.”  As we know, the lamenting over the idea of entering Eretz Yisrael occurred on Tisha b’Av, as did the destruction of the two Batei Mikdash.

Sin destroyed the Holy Temple.  The absence of the Temple is problematic in and of itself, because it was the primary mechanism in the expiation of sin for the Jewish people, both collectively and individually.  The verse (Yeshaya 1) states, “righteousness dwells in it”, and Rashi explains this to mean that this was possible because the morning tamid-offering cleared all of the sins from the previous night, while the afternoon tamid-offering cleared all of the sins from that day.  As long as the Beis HaMikdash was extant, it was possible for the Jewish people to be clean of sin.  Rebbe Nachman emphasizes here that this is all-important, because the Jewish people, due to their delicateness and high level of spirituality, cannot really bear the weight of sin, even for one day.  Without the Beis HaMikdash, there is no way to relieve ourselves of that crushing burden–and Moshe Rabbenu knew this.  Therefore, he said:

סְלַח-נָא, לַעֲו‍ֹן הָעָם הַזֶּה–כְּגֹדֶל חַסְדֶּךָ; וְכַאֲשֶׁר נָשָׂאתָה לָעָם הַזֶּה, מִמִּצְרַיִם וְעַד-הֵנָּה

Now, if you look at part of this phrase, namely:

הַזֶּה–כְּגֹדֶל חַסְדֶּךָ; וְכַאֲשֶׁר נָשָׂאתָה

You will notice that the roshei teivos (first letters), when arranged properly, spell out the word חנוכה, “Chanukah”.  Moshe Rabbenu asked specifically that the forgiveness of the Jewish people should involve an antidote to the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash–a chanukas habayis (re-dedication of the house).  When the Maccabi’im entered the Beis HaMikdash and purified the altar, as we commemorate on Chanukah, this was an example of Moshe Rabbenu’s request for restoration made manifest for the benefit of the Jewish people.

The main aspect of the holiness of Chanukah that we aim for is the very purpose of that Holy Temple: to know that Hashem Hu HaElokim, that the L-rd is G-d–specifically, that His attributes of kindness and judgement, which appear as separate, contradictory forces in the world, are aspects of His Oneness. We end Yom Kippur with this statement, this idea. And we re-invoke it on Chanukah. This knowledge can enable us to purify ourselves from sin.

In addition, as we gaze at the menorah’s warm radiance, and the candles burn on into the night, let us tap into that desire that lies deep within us, to carry this knowledge of holiness and purity forth to our children, for all generations.

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Rabbi Levi Yitzchok Horowitz, zt”l, the Bostoner Rebbe

The Bostoner Rebbe, Rabbi Levi Yitzchok Horowitz, of blessed memory, passed away this past Shabbos at 1:20 PM, at the age of 88.

Although the Rebbe zt”l was born in Boston, he moved with his family to Jerusalem while a young child. There, he merited to thrive as a young boy in its holy atmosphere, as a student at the Chayei Olam yeshiva.  His father, the Rebbe Reb Pinchas Duvid Horowitz, zt”l felt strongly about his connection to the land of Israel, and purchased a large amount of property in the area north of Jerusalem. This parcel was reclaimed by the Israel Lands Authority and not returned to the Bostoner Rebbe. However, the Rebbe was offered in exchange a portion of the Har Nof neighborhood which was then in the planning stages. The Rebbe created a thriving community of chassidim there, which exists until today, with a younger satellite community in Betar Illit.

Of course, this is only part of the story of a life dedicated to bringing Jews close to Torah and chassidus, advocating for the ill and unfortunate, and proclaiming truth in a world of falsehood. The community in Har Nof is comprised in large part of people who came into contact with the Rebbe and his family while attending or staffing the prestigious Boston-area colleges and universities. The Rebbe’s New England Chassidic Center in Brookline, Massachusetts was and continues to be a beacon of authentic Jewish light to Jews of all backgrounds. This was long before the concept of kiruv became a commonly accepted notion in the Orthodox Jewish world. In addition to all of his outreach efforts, the Rebbe served as the head of Agudas Yisroel in America, and as a member of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah of Agudas Yisroel in Israel.

The Rebbe accompanied many other prominent rabbinic leaders to Washington DC in 1943 to plead with then-president Franklin D. Roosevelt to intervene on behalf of the Jews of Europe imperiled by Nazi Germany’s systematic efforts to bring about their annihilation.   More recently, the Rebbe led a very tenacious protest against the expulsion of the Jews from Gush Katif, shedding tears on a daily basis at the prospect of the removal of Jewish families from their homes and the destruction of their synagogues and institutions by the enemy.

Amongst the Rebbe’s biggest accomplishments was the founding of Rofeh International, an organization that provides the infirm and their families with medical referrals to expert doctors and kosher meals and hospitality to Jewish patients in Boston-area hospitals.

I remember the first time I saw the Rebbe. I came to spend Shevi’i Shel Pesach in Har Nof, and went to the Bostoner Beis Midrash. When I entered, I was transported to a magical place where the awesome mystery of chassidic life unfolded before me. Amidst tall bleachers bearing his chassidim, the Rebbe, clad in a beautiful tisch bekeshe and shtreimel, led everyone there in niggunim. Some of these were his family’s own traditional songs originating in the Zidichover tradition from whence Bostoner chassidus comes. Others were old Sephardic melodies that the Rebbe had heard as a child in Jerusalem. The Rebbe was flanked by his sons, who lead the movement today. I remember the thrill of being given shirayim from the Rebbe’s table, a slice of orange. In successive years I was fortunate enough to join hands with the chassidim and dance with the Rebbe as he led those present in shiras hayam, recreating the moment of the splitting of the Red Sea. Living in the Rebbe’s neighborhood enabled me to provide my children with the experience of a real chassidiche hoif, a court, where they could witness these things in real time.

The funeral procession was large, the streets of Har Nof filled to capacity with people escorting the Rebbe on his journey to his resting place on Har HaZeisim. This was truly befitting the tzaddik who graced all of our lives and imbued the lives of those who knew him with grace. May his memory be for a blessing, and may he be a gutte beyter for all of Klal Yisrael, as he was in his holy lifetime.

Tagged , , ,

Clarity: Parshas Vayeitzei

This parsha contains two Aramaic words: yagar sahadusa.  These words were spoken by Lavan HaArami, the father in-law of Yaakov Avinu.  The Aramaic language is unique in the sense that it is a gateway between the Holy Tongue and all other languages.  It seems that Torah must pass through this gateway; it has never been directly translated in such a manner that the translation retained its actual meaning.

In Likutei Moharan 1:19,  Rebbe Nachman of Breslov explains that Aramaic, or Lashon Targum, as it is also known, is conceptually related to the concept of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.  Aramaic functions as a conduit between the holy and the mundane.  The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil is understood on a mystical level to mean an admixture of objective good and evil; eating of its fruit caused knowledge of both to meld together.  Man can no longer separate between the two; he now only has his subjective opinions about what is desirable and undesirable to guide him.

In a deep sense, our job in this world is to peel good and evil apart again, to discern one from the other, elevate the good, and destroy the evil.  This is one of the reasons why we lift the kiddush cup during kiddush.  There is an opinion that the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil was the grape.  Wine, the product of the grape, has the ability to either expand the mind (when used in moderation) or to dismantle one’s human stature.  It can go either way, like Aramaic.  By lifting up the cup, we demonstrate that we have power over it and not the reverse.

Lavan is a very complex personality.  He is called “Lavan”, which means “white”, which would indicate straightforwardness and truthfulness.  Yet, he is also Lavan HaArami, the Aramean, the letters of which can be rearranged to mean “the liar”.  A person like this revels in lack of clarity, misunderstandings, unclear, cunning communication.  And don’t be fooled into thinking that we stand on the sidelines hissing at this bad guy–each one of us has this trait.  If we didn’t, the Torah would not spend so much time on Lavan.  He referred to the pile of stones designated as a mark of covenant between himself and Yaakov by the Aramaic term Yagar Sahadusa.  He made his oath in the name of the G-d of Avraham–seemingly to satisfy Yaakov Avinu and appear kosher.  Yet, he then adds “the god of Nachor” to the oath, indicating that he still placed his trust in the idol worshipped by Avraham Avinu’s forebears. And even if he didn’t, he needed the duality, the option to go this way or that.

But Yaakov Avinu only referred to the pile as Gal Eid, in the Holy Tongue, and would only make an oath in the name of the G-d of Yitzchak Avinu.  For Yaakov Avinu, who was the vehicle for G-d’s attribute of Emes (Truth), there was no other way but true and clear. He would accept no duality, even if it would cost him the opportunity to ingratiate himself to the other party, as diplomats do. And make no mistake, at the moment of this exchange, this was the highest level diplomatic negotiation taking place in the world, not between Carter and Brezhnev, but between two people representing the side of holiness and the sitra achra. This was the defining moment for Yaakov Avinu. And he would accept no duality. Because there is only One. Truth is singular.

I believe that life is also about clarifying, clarifying the good from the bad, making that which is unclear clear, and emerging with or at least moving towards a defined sense of meaning where there was previously an entropic mess, an existential vaccuum.  Our lives become healthier both spiritually and emotionally when the proper boundaries are in place, when we are able to tune in to the actual task that stands before us, and the context of our lives is truth.  When we accomplish this we are able to stand at the gateway where all opposites meet, and remain on the side of clarity and holiness, like Yaakov Avinu.

Tagged ,

Who’s The MVP at Your Shabbos Table?

It is customary to sing Shalom Aleichem on Friday nights when the head of household returns from shul. The song is intended to honor the angels that have accompanied a person from the synagogue to his or her home, to a vision of the Shabbos home: a table beautifully set with the family’s finest dishes and cutlery, two fresh loaves of challah resting beneath their cloth, the glitter of silver Shabbos candles and kiddush cups, people in their Shabbos clothing. Remember that these angels take their leave of the person after the stanza tzeischem l’shalom. According to tradition, for a walk back from shul and a brief stay, these angels whom we cannot see or hear deserve to be honored with the fanfare of song.

Many Jewish homes are open to guests for the meals on Shabbos evening and the following day. Kiruv professionals and regular families alike have integrated the mitzvah of hachnassas orchim (welcoming guests) and the concept of kiruv rechokim (outreach) into their homes. The children of these families have a shining example of hospitality and outer-directedness right in front of their eyes; both of these can be choice educational tools.

The question is: do we honor our children as much as we do angels? Are we as excited about their presence at our Shabbos tables as we are about people who are not members of our immediate family, nor our extended family—sometimes not even people we’ve met before? I have heard personal accounts from many people whose parents’ Shabbos tables were both a source of inspiration for countless people who went on to become shomer Shabbos, and a source of feelings of alienation and betrayal for the children who were given, at best, second-class status at the table. These people came to associate Shabbos with emotional pain.

Our children need our love and attention. If that is true during the week, it is especially true on Shabbos or Yom Tov. When you have a guest, or more than one, where do you seat them? Do you ask your children to move down a few seats to make room for the guests? Do you demand that the guests be served or acknowledged in conversation first?

Consider this: parents have specially designated places at the table; this fact derives from the mitzvah of kibbud av v’em, honoring one’s parents. A child is not allowed, without permission, to sit in his or her parents’ seats. While children cannot lay claim to their seats from the standpoint of Jewish law, they certainly do come to treasure their places next to Mommy and Daddy, or at certain places around the Shabbos table. What are we communicating to them when we ask them to move over for someone else?

Some kids fall asleep between the gefilte fish and the soup. Others seem to be full of energy and will want to entertain the visitors until they leave. Still others will want to have your attention and sing with you. Whatever your kids’ style, it pays to adjust to it. Talk to them, ask them about their week; teach them about Shabbos. Don’t worry that your guests will feel neglected. If they are true friends or family, they will be glad to see that you are raising healthy, happy children.  If the guests are of the “kiruv” variety, you will be giving them the ultimate Jewish educational experience by showing them the importance of children in a Jewish home. Consider your children your most valued “guests”; like the angels who have accompanied you home, they are the angels who greet you there.

Tagged ,
%d bloggers like this: