DWELLING IN SUKKAH CONSCIOUSNESS THROUGHOUT THE YEAR

Once again we find ourselves standing at the entrance way to the season of Sukkos – The feast of tabernacles. Have we ever taken the occasion to consider the meaning of a mitzvah – proclamation – that we literally step into and dwell within  for seven full days?

From Caterpillar to Butterfly

Just as we can observe dramatic changes within the creation, such as the transition of the relatively graceless dawdling caterpillar into a gracefully airborne butterfly, so also we at times observe quite dramatic changes in the course of our lives. Examples of these milestones our when we learned how to walk and talk, graduated, became engaged, began a new job or moved. However, when it comes to spiritual growth, unless we pay close attention to the subtle changes inside of ourselves, we can pass through the various stages of development and transformation without being fully aware of them.

The sukkah can serve as our spiritual cocoon

In order for us to begin dwelling in sukkah -dwelling for holiness and joy – consciousness we need to remove any “roofs” of perceptual limitation and replace them with the supernal lattice –s’chach -our  spirtutal covering –which allows us to widen our spiritual horizons. By understanding the connection between the halachas – proper configuration – of the s’chach and ourselves , we can begin to peer through the gaps and gaze into the supernal realms of our lives.

The Sukkah can be seen as a form of concertized prayer which contains all the components necessary for our spiritual metamorphosis. The mitzvah of sukkah is one of those divinely constructed conduits that enables us to make that smooth transition to the next level of our clossness with our Creator – Hashem. This transformation is made available to us through the halachas of the sukkah.

The sukkah in a metaphysical sense is like a human being with a body and a soul, as it is composed of both earthly and heavenly components.  This duality is reflected in the s’chach  which originated from a natural substance that was attached to the ground and is now uprooted from its soil ( even as Avraham Aveinu uprooted himself from his  cultural surroundings). The s’chack is then placed on high and becomes a  supernal quintessential covering that offers us Divine protection and Heavenly insights. The mitzvah of sukkah aids us to detach from any materialistic excesses as well as guides us through the Uzpizin to nourish from the eternal values of the Torah as will been explained.

How many of us have thought about the following dichotomy? We all have seen how parents begin prodding their toddlers to walk and talk as rapidly as they are able, yet as soon as these same children get a little bigger their parents and educators are constantly telling and teaching these children, often in futility, to sit down and be quite. For the children this mixed message might be quiet confusing but there lies within this moshal a profound message for all of us.

Indeed, in the first phases of life, our task is to learn how to walk and talk and use all of our efforts to “get up” on our own two feet and succeed in the world, however, if a person does not learn how to “sit down” introspectively and become “quietly” contemplative they will find themselves spending their entire adulthood trying to conquer the world instead submitting to their own inner spiritual calling. Perhaps one of the many invaluable lessons within the mitzvah of (leishev) to sit in sukkah is to teach us how to “sit down” in contemplation with our neshomos under the guidance of each days Ushpizin – celebrations – the supernal sublime guests that grace our sukkah..

Just as the period between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur awakens within us our awe of the Creator – Hashem, the seven days of Sukkas has the power to draw  from within us   expressions of ahavas – love and closness with our Creator – Hashem.

To aid us in this transition Chazal – our sages – teach that on each of the seven days of Sukkos one of our forefathers is invited to join us in the sukkah. They are our honored guests who educate us in perceiving our true purpose and potential that we can strive to attain throughout the year when we return back into our homes. This transition is best facilitated by opening our hearts and minds to the divine attributes that the seven Uspizin symbolize as the infra-structure of our spiritual stature.

Under the influence of our forefather Avraham Avinu – our patriarch –  we can reveal and refine the trait of – chesed – loving kindness –  for the sake of Heaven.  Under the guidance of our forefather Yitzchak Avinu we are aided in developing the attribute of discipline so that our chesed – Divine beneficence – can be constructively channeled.  Under the influence of Yaakov Avinu we are shown how to harmonize these seemingly disparate attributes of chesed and gavurah – spiritual strengths.

Moshe Rabbeinu – our guide and teacher – awakens the netzach Israel within us that links us with the eternal message of the Torah. Under the tutelage of Aaron HaKohan we learn to offer ourselves for service to the Creator thereby engendering greater peace in  the world.

Yosef HaTzadik inspires us in our strivings towards righteousness through acts of purity. Finally the attribute of malchus, which is expressed through the kingdom of David HaMelech, is the power within us to orchestrate and combine all of these attributes  so as to harmonize our potential to reveal the will of the Creator in this world. This means that each day of Succos we each have been blessed with our own private supernal “tutors” who join us while we are enveloped within the mitzvah thereby aiding us to elicit from deep within us the seven divine attributes.

Through following this spiritual prescription may we see to take the inner message of the sukkah back into our homes the whole year, thereby meriting to dance (stand up) and sing (speak) words of praise and gratefulness for each moment throughout our lives thereby meriting to soon dwell in the long awaited Sukkos David.

DUST OF THE DAWN – THE YOM KIPPUR TRANSFORMATION

 

These puzzling and profound statements warrant further attention but before we look into the spiritual molecular structure of this “dust,” we will add one more dimension and that is the element of time. Our holy Zohar (Vayikra 100b) implies that our tikun of that battle takes place on the evening of Yom Kippur. It is also well known in our holy Sarfim that in every interaction there are always three components of: person (nefesh), place (makom) and time (zman).   Yaakov Aveinu and Eisav represent the two diametrically opposed aspects of nefesh – moral extremes of good and bad.  The gid hanasheh corresponds to mokom – place since it is the mechanism which allows us to position ourselves in the physical and moral planes. [In the Tikuni Zohar it is written that the gid hanasha corresponds to media of tzadik which corresponds to the attribute of yesod – (tikun 18 duf 32b)]. The third component is Yom Kippur which is separate and apart from the rest of the calendar year [that Rashi brings from one pashot in the Tana devay Eliahu – Raba – perek alef on Tehillim (139 pusack 16) indicating that Yom Kippur is a uniquely sanctified day. [also see the Sefer Likutey Moharan – simon 179].                 One of the most famous confrontations in history has an interesting “footnote”.  We are informed by the Midrash that the battle between the angel of Eisav and Yaakov was so intense that the “dust” it raised reached the Kisei Ha-Kavod., and then we are told wondrously that all the successes of Yaakov Avinu, in business ventures and in battle (challenge) as well as the success of all of his descendants throughout the ages comes in the merit of this “dust of contention”. (Shir Hashirim Raba: 3:6:2)

To the above we could ask a few obvious questions. Are all bracas for parnosa and success in overcoming challenges pre-ordained “gifts” than we do nothing to deserve them? Also what is the significance that this “soul battle” took place specifically on evening of Yom Kippur? Also what is the deeper meaning of this “dust” that guarantees these blessings of parnoasa and success throughout the generations?

We begin our analysis with the understanding that every human being is a composite of soul and body, intellect and emotions, the spiritual and the physical. When we make choices in our everyday activities – those choices can either align us with Hashem’s purpose for us or send us floundering in the opposite direction. It is through seeing and living life through “soul perspective”, which is “cosmic view” of the world, that allows us to traverse safely the occasional bumpy “terrain” of life’s challenges.

As is well known, Esau, who came with four hundred men to confront Ya’akov, symbolizes the yetzer hora’s efforts to try to upset this synergistic balance. That night Yaakov returned over the Yabuk to collect – pachim ketanim – small vessels and had a dramatic encounter with the angel of Esau. Near the end of the battle, Yaakov’s gid hanasheh, the cord/sinew that coordinates balance and movement and allows us to effect a change in physical position, was dislocated. Perhaps we can say that the gid hanasha not only represents the pivotal point for movement but also symbolizes the moral direction we choose.

Interestingly, the exact size army that Esau came with is the numerical equivalent of the Hebrew word for straw (KaSh) spelled  – Kuf Shin. The nature of straw is that each strand itself is easily broken, but when many strands of straw are bound together they become strong and resilient. So to in life, each individual small incident, like a piece of straw, can be seen as relatively insignificant and be easily torn (discarded), however if one allows themselves to “bundle up issues” until the some total of them looks and feels as strong as the army of Esav then even these minor but now bundled confrontations within daily life can seen and felt as overwhelming.

From this insight perhaps we can now add an additional reason why our Sages have told us not to bundle mitzvos together to teach us that also individual challenges throughout our daily lives should also never be bundled together, but each incident should be dealt with appropriately unto itself and the “emotional chaff” immediately discarded. Thus if someone at various times does something to annoy us, we should deal with each challenge with a fresh open-minded objective solution oriented perspective and not allow any bundling of past aggravations and annoyances into the picture. Another example of bundling can be for example multiple annoying issues besiege a person like an emergency arises to take someone to the hospital but the car in front is moving too slowly, or the children start fighting in the back seat, or the secretary at the registration desk is rude, or the waiting time to be seen seems forever. The strategy in order to maintain one’s emotional equilibrium and equanimity is to always keep separate each contentious issue (piece of kash) and thereby much more easily diffuse the intensity of that days tests of character.

The conflict between Yaakov and Eisav symbolizes the quintessential battle between selflessness and selfishness. The Zohar in Parshas Toldos informs us that everything that Yaakov Avinu did was for the sake of Heaven (l’Sham Shamayim). The Midrash tells us that Yaakov is the symbol of the Yetzer Tov while Esau corresponds to the Yetzer Hora. At the end of the titanic struggle that lasted until the break of dawn, Yaakov Avinu was able to triumphant over the angel of Esau. Our forefather Yaakov, like his predecessors Avraham and Yitzchak, was able to successfully realign his spiritual genetic propensities thus enabling us to be the perpetual beneficiaries of this treasury of moral refinement.

The avoda of Erev Yom Kippur also plays an important part in this transformation because this day is the “entranceway” that lies between the material and the spiritual realms. On Erev Yom Kippur we are asked to live in seemingly disparate realms. We spend the day examining our actions and our motives in an effort to do sincere teshuvah and immerse in the waters of purification (the holy mikva) and yet are commanded to eat more than usual throughout the day with culminating with a full seuda. By fulling this mitzvah of eating well the Sages have told us that is it thereby considered as if we had fasted two days. This perhaps can be understood to mean that Erev Yom Kippur through, ironically, eating becomes sanctified like fasting on Yom Kippur itself. That being said we can now understand better that what our Sages have told us to be exceedingly careful each Erev Shabbos and Erev Yom Tov because naturally the obligations of preparation and emotional height is far greater than the rest of the year. So also we can therefore surmise is Erev Yom Kippur which is referred to as Shabbos Shabboston. Therefore true success in making ourselves a vessel to receive holiness and blessings that come on the holidays is to not buddle issues which could lead to confrontations and instead stand up to each challenge and deal with it only at its core root as Yaakov Avinu. Yaakov instead of battling four hundred united (bundled) warriers he battled with the ONE root of their existence (the angel of Esav) and thereby overcame (annulled) the potential confrontation of all of them.  By radiating an aura of respect and concern for others, regardless of which incidents arise, then we can be assured to have made ourselves a fitting vessel (cle) to receive the blessings that Yaacov merited for parnosa and success.

On Yom Kippur we are compared to malakim because we are not limited to the realm of this mundane world. It is a time and opportunity to reach new levels of closeness to G-d through the power of prayer. The eve of Yom Kippur can bring with it a shift in consciousness from the earthly to the spiritual realm, with the “break of dawn” perhaps symbolizing the new light of day which has the power to shine its beneficence throughout all the rest of the year.

May we all merit to transform each challenging situation from the “dust of potential confrontation” into the “gold dust of actualized conciliation” thereby meriting to bring closer the final redemption (geula) – may it be soon in our days.

THE NINTH OF THE MONTH OF AV – CONNECTIONS AND REFLECTIONS

B.S.D.

Since our Sages tells us that when the month of Av enters we lessen our (simcha) happiness and when the month of Adar enters we increase our simcha, it behooves us to try to find some underlying thread of connectedness between these two antithetically appearing periods of time whose pinnacle of expression are manifest on the days of Tisha b’Av and Purim respectively.

On Tisha b’Av we replace our cheerful smiles and laughter of Purim with tears and heartfelt sighs.

On Tisha b’Av we exchange our flamboyant Purim costumes and demeanor with unadorned garments and mournful introspection.

On Tisha b’Av we defer from the joyous festive eating and drinking of Purim by replacing them withdrawal from corporeal pleasures.

On Tisha b-Av we refrain from joyously sharing with all and bestowing gifts on friends as we do on Purim, while instead sit humbly in an introspective state of mourning.

O’Tisha b-Av please reveal to us how through your five restrictions of this day can we bring ourselves five steps closer to the coming of the final redemption?

(Tisha b’Av speaking to us)

1)    On this, our day of mourning, by taking off your leather shoes, allows us to “refit” our souls.

 

2)    On this, our day of mourning, by refraining from leisurely walks and other corporeal pleasures, allows us to increase our “strides” towards holiness.

3) On this, our day of mourning, by not washing and anointing externally, instead merit to “cleanse” and “purify” ourselves internally.

4) On this, our day of mourning, instead of physically eating and drinking, we become “nourished” with spiritual nourishment for our souls.

5) On this, our day of mourning, by abstaining from learning, we learn instead that life has no deep meaning without the teachings of the Torah.

O’Tisha b’Av, may the Mashiach who is waiting at our “doorstep”, help us to open the “doors” of our hearts, thereby for ever transforming past times of mourning into future times of joy.

 

La-shana haba bi-Jerusalem

MOUNT (HAR) SINAI – THE CONDUIT FOR THE MESSAGE

    

               This world is filled with treasure
hunters—people looking for riches in all of its forms –wealth, power, position
and glory.  They search high and low for
clues and directional signposts to show them the way. A recent article reported
on the activities of one of the most successful hedge fund managers in the
world whose fund returns a whopping 36% a year (net before fees).  To accomplish this he uses  a  vast
array of sophisticated computing equipment reputed to be worth over 600 million
dollars and 150 employees who hold doctoral degrees in fields as diverse as  astrophysics and linguistics rather than in
finance.  All of this combined brain
power is used to sift through huge amounts of raw data eliminating what appears
to be irrelevant information or “noise” 
and  scrutinizing what remains for
patterns with the goal of  discerning   investment trends and directions.  If we think about it, the tools for this
search may be  new, but the methodology
is not. It is the age old process of mining for minerals and gold by clearing through
tons of dirt and rock  to reveal the riches
within, using computers rather than digging tools.

            So much of mankind is on a
seemingly never ending search for success and fortune, however, at best, their
endeavors  produce only transitory gains.
This is in contrast to the enduring legacy of our nation which we acquired 3300
years ago when we merited to receive the durable, eternal wealth of our holy
Jewish teachings (Torah).

            At
the giving of the Torah, we were not asked to be searchers seeking out subtle
clues and vague directives.  We did not
have to explore the heavens and plumb the depths of the seas.  We did not even have to climb to the top of
the lowest mountain upon which it was given in order to receive it. It was
brought down to us—by our leader and emissary, Moshe Rabbeinu. The question
then as now was not how to find it,  but
rather how are we to comprehend, appreciate and incorporate its treasured value
into our lives?  There are maps and
guideposts that are available to help us with this exploration.  All it requires is for us to take a fresh
look at some old familiar landscapes.

              To start we might wish to consider the place
of its presentation. The desert is a place that is separated from the busyness
of the world—a place where the world’s standards and distractions do not
impinge—a place where we lacked the ability to be self sustaining, but in fact
had to rely upon the Creator’s (Hashem’s) kindness and protection.  In this place, greatness is measured in
humility rather than in power and wealth for ones’ very survival depended upon
the willingness to humbly accept the direction of the Creator of the Universe.  And thus we find our first  prerequisite for “mining” the treasure that is
our Torah—that is the ability to allow the Torah to guide us rather than us
making determinations that impose our own limitations upon it.

          Another key for accessing the Torah’s
eternal wisdom and guidance is derived from the fact that it was given from above
but was received below.  This
alludes to the fact that the Torah emanates from a place that is “above
natural law, but in order for us to benefit from the wealth of our Torah these teachings
need to descend into all facets of our lives.

             How does this happen? Ordinarily, it is difficult
to evoke changes in habits and behavior, therefore perhaps the intense roaring thunder
and streaking lightening bolts at Har Sinai may have been much more than just an
introduction of the giving of the Torah but actually served to “jolt” the whole
nation out of their old mind set in order to elicit the new spiritual revelation
that was to follow.  For us it can serve
as a lesson reminding us that  before
valuable growth in the service of Hashem) can occur, there often comes a
challenging “storm” – ie: a difficult situation or person that  jolts us and in so doing actually helps us to
realign with Torah directed sensibility and sensitivity. 

             This perhaps explains the fact that the entire
nation experienced a transposition of the senses in which they heard
what they saw and saw what they heard. We, who are the beneficiaries of the
Sinai revelation, can continue to benefit from this vital experience, if when hearing
of some else’s difficult problems – we see what we can do to help them.
Likewise when we see someone struggling – if we allow ourselves to hear
our inner voice guiding us as to how we can react most sensitively to their
needs, we will hopefully bring closer the final redemption (geula), may it be
soon in our days.

All articles appearing on this blog are copyrighted by Rabbi Yehoshua Binyamin Falk. All rights reserved. Permission is granted to share/download/copy this information as long as it is accompanied by the copyright. Separately authored/copyrighted materia

ON CHEESECAKE & COMMITMENT – SHAVOUS

                                                                                         
       
  The Pesach seder with its unusual
foods and customs is not the only holy time that summons the question, “Ma
Nishtana” –Why are we doing things differently?.   On Shavuos we can also very legitimately ask
the same question: “Why is this Yom Tov different?  On other Yomim Tovim , we honor the holidays
with flesic meals; on this Yom Tov we also have a dairy meal.  Why?  The relationship between the Creator and the
Jewish people has been compared to the relationship between a parent and a
child.  Loftier than the relationship
between a king and his subjects the parent-child relationship epitomizes ultimate
devotion and unconditional love. 
Parental giving transcends all limitations and finds no barrier too high
or too wide to prevent the flow of benefits to the child. This parental giving
is understood through and symbolized by chalav. 
In fact, the ultimate level of devotion is described as the “milk of
human kindness. Just as a parent sustains their children, providing every need,
how much more so does Hashem nurtures and sustains us.

              Through our custom of making one
of our Shavuos seudas a dairy meal, we are perhaps expressing that we
acknowledge that the Torah is the “perfect formula” for our health and
existence. We clearly understand that Hashem sustains us long before we have
done anything to deserve such devoted care as we find when the Creator promised
to take us out of Mitzrayim and bring us to a land flowing with milk and honey  (Shemos 3:7-8). The commentators inform us
that we merited this extraordinary treatment because of our potential to
receive and keep the Torah.  This reveals
an important aspect of Hashem’s governance of this world. The Giver of all life
has an even greater desire to share His goodness with us than we do to receive
it. Thus, perhaps one of the reasons, we eat dairy foods on Shavuos is to
remind us that many of the benefits and blessings we enjoy are granted to us
even before we have accumulated the merits to earn them.

                 Torah, of course, is not just
for children, but it does keep us young. 
Torah offers constant rejuvenation, the true “fountain of youth” from which
its adherents can drink from its continuous wellsprings. Torah never ages, nor
does its eternal wisdom become obsolete. Its pure spiritual “nutrients” help us
to clarify from that which is superficial from that which is essential.
Interestingly in this regard, chalav which is nourishing but not fattening,
shares the same letters as the word, chalev, which  if not required to provide energy is stored
in the body. Perhaps one of the many lessons the Torah teaches us in forbidding
the consumption of  chalev, and in
the time of the Temple
to burn it on the altar, is a remez to us that the energy, talent, strength,
wealth and wisdom that we are blessed with should all be used solely in the
service of Hashem.

           Notably sharing our blessings, in
turn, enhances the attribute of humility as is hinted through the similar words
of chalav and chalev whose gematria are both forty. Is it any
coincidence that a Bas Kol declares ones besheret forty days before conception;
that the mabul, which purified the world in the generation of Noach, lasted
forty days; that  Moshe Rabbainu fasted
forty days before receiving the Torah and that the minimum measurement for the
mikvah, which purifies and transforms us especially on Shavuos morning, all had
and have the ability to — so to speak – skim off the chalev from the chalav. 

               With these thoughts in mind this
Shavuos, may the Creator bless each of us with an abundance of everything we
need so as to be able to share our blessing with others. May we soon merit the
inauguration of our holy Bais HaMigdash, thereby being able to once again offer
up the chalev of our korbanos as a small expression of our gratitude
for all the chesed that we are blessed with.

 

All articles appearing on this blog are copyrighted by Rabbi Yehoshua Binyamin Falk. All rights reserved. Permission is granted to share/download/copy this information as long as it is accompanied by the copyright. Separately authored/copyrighted materia

LAG BI-OMER – THE 33rd DAY OF JOY

                                                                   

            As we soon
approach the awesome day of Lag Bi-Omer, in which as many of five hundred
thousand people will come from all over the world to be together in Moron with
the Tana Rabbi Shimon Bar Yocai, there is to ask: what is the underlying
unifying drawing power of this day and this Sage? To embellish this question,
let us realize that logically speaking, Rabbi Shimon attraction should be
mainly only those few individuals who delve into his sacred text of Kabbalah,
known as the Zohar. Also there is to ask – how is it that such a diverse makeup
of Jewish people, ranging from the Ultra Orthodox to the far left irreligious
and everyone else in between are all drawn to the same place, time and person?
Another irony in the spirit of this unique day where unity and joy have supreme
reign is that Rabbi Shimon, like his named predecessor long before – Shimon the
son of Yaakov both had within them a propensity of the meda of gavurot – strict
judgment as seen by the story of Schem and Shimon’s reaction and with the story
of Rabbi Shimon bar Yocai’s response when he saw someone working.

               This
then leads us to another interesting question along the same lines: Since Lag
Bi-Omer  corresponds to the seferiot –
hod within hod (submission within submission), what is the deeper lesson of
Aahron Ha-Kohan, who corresponds to the attribute of hod and is best known for
loving and pursuing (ohav shalom and rodaf sholom) peace, being a direct
descendent from Levi also participated in the misa of gavrot in the story of
Schem?

                A
final question is to ask: What if any is the significance of the bow and arrows
that are customarily played with on Log Bi Omer?

                
Perhaps all these questions can be understood by realizing that although
it may sound counter intuitive, it is specifically those people who have a
certain “extreme” propensity, such as strong gavuros, can through great effort
actually spring all the way over to the other end of the spectrum thereby
coming to emulate the attribute of chesed even more than those naturally
inclined.

                I once
heard such a story where a well known Rav, who was particularly appreciated for
his kindly nature, when asked how he achieved such an exalted level responded
that his natural propensity was to be aloof and negative but after years of
working on himself he “sprang” over to the opposite extreme of  being friendly and positive.

               So also
it may be that this day of hod within hod that corresponds to Aahron Ha Kohan
and is the Yortiet of Rabbi Shimon bar Yocai 
is truly a day of joy because it teaches all of us that no one is forced
to live by their mazel but just like an arrow’s distance and speed forward is
dependent on the thrust of the bow backward, so also it is specifically those
who have a propensity of one extreme can actually, like the arrow, be
catapulted to the furthest point at the opposite extreme.

                 This
explanation now explains why there is such a large varied group of Jews that
are drawn to Moron on Log Bi Omer because the message of this day is that
anyone and everyone can learn to love and pursue peace and that there is no
better place on the earth this day to put it into practice.

All articles appearing on this blog are copyrighted by Rabbi Yehoshua Binyamin Falk. All rights reserved. Permission is granted to share/download/copy this information as long as it is accompanied by the copyright. Separately authored/copyrighted materia

SEFERIOS HA-OMER — STEPPING STONES TO HIGHER CONSCIOUSNESS


          How do you understand that the
mitzvah of Sefiros HaOmer, from Pesach until Shavous, plays such an important
role in the Jewish calendar when the daily mitzvah is seemingly “merely”
counting each of these days? Another question is what are we counting for and
why do we stop the day before Shavous? If we are counting the days left till Shavous
then we should be counting from fifty down to one.  Of course there are many deep reasons and
explanations of the significance of counting but we shall try to pave a new
path of understanding into this unique mitzvah of counting each day.

            What is it that we are counting? We are
counting the days until we will offer the sheaves (omar) of wheat. On Pesach we
offered barley which is described as food for a behama whereas on Shavous our
offering comes from wheat which is considered the main staple food for human
beings. Therefore the count seems to keep our focus on moving up the spiritual
ladder from our animalistic nature (nefesh behamis) which has been created to
help us fill our basic desires and to transcend nature though acts of altruistic
selflessness.

                    Interestingly all that is
required of us in the mitzvah to achieve this goal is to count from one to
forty nine. How can the act of merely counting achieve anything consequential?
Perhaps there is a very deep lesson in as adults counting  the Omer. As children we are taught to count
in order to know how much I have. Now, during the seferia, we our counting to
know how soon I will give away what belongs to me. Parents and teachers taught
us how to count. Now during serferia, Hashem, Himself, so to speak, is teaching us not only how to count but what actually really counts.
 

All articles appearing on this blog are copyrighted by Rabbi Yehoshua Binyamin Falk. All rights reserved. Permission is granted to share/download/copy this information as long as it is accompanied by the copyright. Separately authored/copyrighted materia

PESACH : RECAPTURING THE INTEGRITY OF THE AFIKOMAN

  

             It’s the night of Pesach
with all the family and guests joined together around the Seder table. After
Kiddish the Bal HaBais breaks the middle matzah, wraps up the larger piece for
the Afikomin and puts it snugly  behind
his pillow.  Later in the seder someone
points to the place of the afikoman and whispers to the child, “Snatch it now,
quickly, while he’s not looking.” The child hesitates, feeling quite shy having
been brought up with proper values of respect and honesty. This night
everything at the house looks so different. The table is much longer than usual
filled with relatives and guests — it’s white and beautiful with lots of shiny
glasses, sparkling silver. But then with a little more prodding and a burst of
courage he moves closer to the treasured hidden away afikomen, hesitating,
until some one prompts him, “Quick, grab it and run.”

For
a second, he feels afraid, but as soon as it is in his hand, he feels an
exhilarating surge of excitement and exuberance. Even after hiding it he
continues to feel energized and successful. Much later, when the child is asked
to return the afikoman, he doesn’t give it right back, being prodded by others
to first ask for a nice prize.

Doesn’t
this conduct seem a quite odd?  Here we
are seemingly allowing our small untainted children to take something that
doesn’t belong to them and on top of that extort a reward for their efforts on
one of the holiest nights of the year. How can we possibly understand this conduct?

  Perhaps we can explain this unusual behavior
as follows. Usually the yetzer hara tries to lure a person into improper
behavior through offering feelings of ephemeral thrills and excitement. Even
though we want to avoid such conduct, the problem we face is that we simply
cannot discard the yetzer hara.  As in
the well known Medrash, when the Sages davened to remove the yetzer hara and
Hashem answered their tefillos, even the chickens stopped laying eggs. The
yetzer hara is necessary but needs to be controlled. The challenge to us is to sur
mei ra
, avoid evil, yet preserve our enthusiasm and direct it to our ma’asim
tovim.  But how do we do this? 

   Perhaps, this is precisely what we are
achieving when we encourage our children to take the afikomen.  We are allowing our young pure children to
experience the excitement that is usually motivated by the yetzer hara when engaged
in risky, dangerous and thrill seeking conduct. 
We do this by giving them a controlled dose of the “taste of desire.”
As the child grows up, that spiritual inoculation that was administered
l’shem Shamayim with love will then continue to act as an antidote against the
infectious negative powers of the yetzer hara. 
Indeed, that dose of controlled enthusiasm, experienced by the child on
lay’l Pesach, will enable him to rekindle those exuberant feelings throughout
the year directing them in a positive mode while learning Torah, performing
mitzvos and ma’asim tovim.

But
how can experiencing this “controlled taste of desire” both act as a vaccine
shielding the child from learning mis-conduct, while at the same time inspiring
the him with enthusiasm for all things that are Holy? It is because of the
setting in which this “taste” is given. Let us remember, the seder night is
referred to as – lay’l shemurim, the night of watching – the perfect night for this
process to take place as it is a time when the forces of evil are subdued. 

    You may be wondering, how can this
spiritual “inoculation” continue to protect us into our adult years?   Possibly
the answer is we use “booster shots”! 
Oh, we are not suggesting that this Pesach we grab the afikoman, however
we should watch the one who is taking it and allow that “small child” inside
each of us to relive and rekindle our own feelings of inner joy and exuberance,
thereby rekindling our youthful enthusiasm in the service of Hashem.

May
we all merit soon to be able to fulfill the mitzvah of afikoman in Jerusalem at the final
geula soon in our days.

————————–

   The
attribute of exuberance and excitement was stolen by the yetzer when Adam and
Chavea did the sin. On the night of Pesach we are able to re-capture our
inheritance and return it to be used in the holy service of H. Since the yetzer
took it through theft we re-capture it, through an act that looks like theft,
at a time when the forces of evil are subdued.

All articles appearing on this blog are copyrighted by Rabbi Yehoshua Binyamin Falk. All rights reserved. Permission is granted to share/download/copy this information as long as it is accompanied by the copyright. Separately authored/copyrighted materia

(BITTUL CHUMATZ) ANNULING EGO – THE AWAKENING OF THE SOUL

The rain 
washed down the windshield in torrents undeterred by the wipers. The
driver wiped his bleary eyes and the world swam. Only a few more miles, he
thought and I will be able to deliver the medicine from the pharmacy and go
home.  He glanced at the directions
scribbled on a wrinkled paper.  Here’s
the turn.  There’s the house.  He wearily unlatched the car door, hitched
his jacket over his head and moved quickly through the Spring storm to the
front door.  As the door bell rang , he
heard   the sound of small feet running
in his direction.

The door opened and he blinked to adjust his eyes
to the dim light inside.  He looked and
nearly giggled, “It’s nighttime, he thought, “do you know where your children
are?”  If you don’t , they are probably
here tiptoeing one behind the other in a long uneven line, following a man
carrying a candle near to the ground, squinting as he stoops down and peers
into the back of a sofa cushion.   No one
paid attention to the stranger at the door, except for one small boy who seemed
to be

 

                                                        

motioning him to join in. The young delivery man stood there awkwardly
staring at this odd sight, early memories stirring deep within him.

What could he be thinking – this stranger? What
could he understand of this Jewish law and time honored custom of (bedikas
chumetz) – the searching for any grain product, such as bread and cake, that
has risen.  Now, we know what it is all
about, we are used to it, we understand it – or do we?

 It is  Erev Pesach.  
We have just spent weeks cleaning our homes from top to bottom, making
certain that not one crumb of chumetz remains anywhere in our realm.  We have scoured  every crevice, turned each pocket inside out
and emptied our children’s secret treasure troves of cookies and pretzels.  And just 
as we have begun to feel that unique once- a -year feeling, that sense
that we really have managed to rid ourselves of every crumb — at that  moment – we assign someone to secretly hide
(the custom being ten) pieces of chumetz throughout our homes and possessions.
Then specifically in the darkness of  the
night we make a candle light “search”– and as we find each piece, we carefully
sweep it triumphantly away with the help of a feather and a wooden spoon into a
guarded place.

Why are we doing this?  Is it merely symbolic?  What is going on?



What would this soggy stranger think, if we told him that we were
regaining our freedom with those ten pieces of bread?

Yet, it is actually true.  The night of bedikas chumetz,  like every other meaningful event in life has
three components, the person, that is ourselves,  place and time.  The Creator is referred to as HaMakom , the

   Place,  because there is no place devoid of His
Presence.  However Hashem has made room
for us and allows us and our possessions to exist in His world. When we do
bedikas chumetz, we are proclaiming that 
it is His world and we are his invited guests.  When we accept this upon ourselves and fulfill
the commandment that requires us to 
relinquish a kosher, ordinarily innocuous possession , that is when we
begin to taste freedom.  This is because
it  is difficult to pull away from the
lures of this world which can enslave us, and addict us and  remove our freedom of choice. But when Hashem
directs us to do so, and we comply, He provides us with the ability to let
go.   



The third component of this event is time
which  plays the major role in our Pesach
preparations.  It is only time that
separates chumetz from matzah, for they both start with the same ingredients,
flour and water.  Chumetz, leaven, is
created through a process of fermentation that causes pockets of air to form in
the flour and water mixture, expanding the dough and making it grow large.  Like dough, egos can also be inflated.  The leavening agents can be  money, power, vanity or fame, together with the
flattery that catalyzes them into a bubbling brew that pumps up our sense of
self importance. One extra moment can mark the difference between leavened and
unleavened –one moment can be enough to transform  the mixture of flour and water from
permissible matzah into forbidden chumetz. And it only takes but a moment of
time for us to feel achieved and

congratulate ourselves for our accomplishments thus improperly taking personal
credit for that which Hashem has given to us.



So as we make our bedikas
chumetz or any other mitzvah, we should try to do so with the un-self conscious
innocence, inspiration and joy of a child.

          Now with a better understanding of the need
for the bedika, let us ask but why search in the darkness of night? We might
think that it is not such a good idea as evening symbolizes the powers of the
dark side- the sitra achra.  However, on
this special night, we are given the assignment and ability to enter its realm
on a “search and destroy mission”.  In
those moments, that ner/candle is a holy spiritual beam that is able to
penetrate deeply to expose any sign of ego inflation. In the esoteric tradition
the Ner represents a vessel for the – shefa – the holy influence that channels
the Divine Radiance thereby illuminating any dark or hidden places, allowing us
find, identify and remove any impurities. Through the removal of any “excess
baggage” we are then prepared  to
receive  the special (kiddusha) holiness
that permeates  the night of Passover.

                  One final thought on the multifaceted
value of the bedikas chumetz. The ideal way to perform this minhag is to allow
some member of the house or close friend to hide some small portions of bread
or mezzonos. Many have the custom of 
placing ten pieces for esoteric reasons and also to insure the finding
of some chumetz in an already thoroughly clean home.  But this practical reason is not necessarily
the only explanation.

  This
hunt for chumetz is a joint mitzvah that gets everyone involved in an effort to
accomplish this task.       So in the years when my children were
young, we would use this night to send a not-so-subtle message to them.  Chumetz  would be put in places where old battles were
fought.  So, for the child who would
leave his shoes in the middle of the room for others to trip over, chumetz would
be put in that shoe.  For another

child, a messy closet
was the battle ground and she would find a piece of chumetz there.  We would all end our bedikas chumetz laughing
over things that frustrated us during the year. Pesach is a time of unity and
what better way to nurture this idealistic state than making a bedika  from within and without.  

   This
captivating ritual of bedikas chumetz,  one of the many heart warming mitzvot of
Pesach, transforms a mundane cleaning process  into a sacred and mystical rite. This creates
the atmosphere in which Pesach is renewed each year – And as Pesach is renewed
– so are we. As for the young delivery man who was standing at the entranceway,
may that glimpse into the Pesach experience be just the right “prescription”
for his transformation.

           La Shana Haba bi-Jerusalem    La
Shana Haba bi-Jerusalem

All articles appearing on this blog are copyrighted by Rabbi Yehoshua Binyamin Falk. All rights reserved. Permission is granted to share/download/copy this information as long as it is accompanied by the copyright. Separately authored/copyrighted materia

ALL TIME PITFALLS – IN EXILE

                                                    

               In a few impacting pesukim
in the beginning of Sefer Shemos, the Torah sets in motion the political
and emotional forces that were to keep the children of Israel in bondage for
the next two hundred and ten years. 
These same forces have operated as a snare throughout history and are
present today, only the stage setting has been specially designed to lure this
generations unwary into its web of spiritual bondage. The mindset that led to
their subjugation in Egypt
was their yearning to be like everyone else – to assimilate into the culture of
whatever country they found themselves in. There are those who in their
eagerness to be a part of the culture, may mistakenly replace their service of
Hashem with loyal service to the governing regime in a manner far beyond and
above that which is required by the ordinary dictates of good citizenship.                     

            Pharaoh,
who personifies the Jewish nemesis, the yetzer hara, understood that as
long as the Jewish people were living in accordance with high standard of
spiritual development referred to as the “Children of (Bnei) Israel,” he
would not be able to subjugate them.  They
were the beneficiaries of Hashem’s promise to Avraham Avinu – a promise which
was to be eternally evidenced by the bris mila, covenant of circumcision.   However, after Joseph died, the Jews stopped
circumcising their sons because they wanted to emulate the Egyptians.  (Midrash Rabba I:8).  In order to prevent their assimilation,
Hashem transformed the appreciation the Egyptians previously had into a feeling
that the Bnei Israel had become a threat to them. The yetzer hara, in
the guise of Pharaoh, then changed its form, face and presentation in order to
subjugate the Israelites and turn them into servants of the state. 

To induce the Israelites to
participate in their building program, the Egyptians hung a brick kiln around
Pharaoh’s neck, inviting the Jews to join him in brick making.  Each man went to work making as many bricks
as possible, which thereafter became the expected quota. The Jews thus became
willing accomplices in their own enslavement, wooed and won over by this appeal
to “love of country.” This technique, oft repeated in Jewish history, trapped
them into a process of assimilation and distancing them from their connection
to the Torah of the Creator. 

              Modern society today poses a
different but equally challenging test, by luring its citizens towards the
ephemeral standards of the times. Their value scale of success is graded by
such “yardsticks” as how wealthy and famous one is. The lifestyle that emerges
from this philosophy can be as, if not more, detrimental to spiritual growth
than the servitude imposed by the Egyptians.

 

                                         Addicted
to Bondage

By the time the Israelites began
to see the futility and hypocrisy of their alliance with Pharaoh, it was too
late. The bondage had become an addiction.  
The Bnei Yisrael were given the task of building arei miskenos,
cities, whose names were Pisom and Ra’amseis.  
The word miskenos has the same root as the word miskein which
means misfortune or poverty.    Pisom
means sudden or immediate.  It also can
refer to the mouth of the abyss, pi tehom (Midrash Rabba
I:10).  Ra’am means loud, like a
thunderclap.

            In
our hectic lives, where sudden and immediate claims upon our time are an all
too frequent occurrence, if we are not discerning, we may find that we are
building Pisom.  We may also necessarily
be building Ra’amses, since these calls to duty are usually loud and very
difficult to ignore. One of the ploys of the yetzer hara is to persuade
us that we must accomplish everything we have set out to do which can lead to
feel overwhelmed. Pharaoh well understood that working without respite on
purposeless tasks that could never be completed would weaken the physical,
mental, emotional and most importantly spiritual health of the Nation.

         Acting too quickly and assuming
excessive obligations without enough considered thought as to their value and
purpose can make a person feel as if they are enslaved. The connection between
poignant (distressing) said of affairs and the bondage in Egypt is apparent.
We can now readily see how these words of our eternal Torah apply to anyone at
any time:  “They embittered their lives
with avoda kasha, hard work, bechomer, with mortar and with leveinim,
bricks, and with every labor of the field; all the labors that they performed
with them were with crushing harshness” (Shemos 1:14).   The work was kasha, hard.  This word is related to the word for straw, kash,
to hint to us that work is hard when it is like straw to us, that is, when it
is commonplace and purposeless.   Mortar,
chomer, which in Hebrew also means material, represents that which is
stripped of spiritual content, of inspiration. 
Even without purpose and without inspiration we can still produce leveinim,
bricks, but when one works under those circumstances they are reduced to field
laborers (avoda basadeh) deprived of higher motivation, dignity and joy.

           

                                                            Salvation

But take heart; there is a
way out.  There is an answer that may surprise
us.  Moshe Rabbeinu told Pharaoh to
release us because we are being called upon to serve Hashem.   Service of the Creator is not always easy,
but it has all of the components that make it humane and perfect.  It provides meaningful obligations that have
an eternal reward.  It provides periodic
rest periods on Shabbos and Yamim Tovim dedicated to simcha.  Can a lifestyle that thrives on competition
and stresses the importance of out -doing the neighbors in material
acquisitions, compare with the eternal, meaningful rhythm of our beautiful
Jewish lives? 

           When we stop and take stock of our
options and our strengths, the time we have, the things we must do in order to
fulfill our obligations as Jews as opposed to those things that we may be doing
to serve some other cultural demand, we may be pleasantly surprised by the
result.  We may be able to simplify our
lives and our goals and live in greater harmony then we ever thought possible.  The job of the Egyptian taskmasters was to
maximize the burdens upon the Israelites which ultimately shortened their
servitude and enhanced their purification in the caldron that was Egypt.  It is precisely when the “task masters of
time” bear down upon us that we have the opportunity to cull the necessary from
the unnecessary and focus upon those matters that are essential to our avoda
can be reached by sincerely asking for Hashem’s help in the process. 

This will actualize Pharaoh’s
fear that we will  “go up [be raised up]
from the land.”  “The land” which represents
our physical and mental attachment to this world will no longer have a hold on
us.  When we cleave to Hashem through His
Torah, we will be elevated to a higher level of consciousness referred to as
“the children of (Bnei) Israel.”

The Torah teaches us that the
more the Jewish nation was afflicted the more they increased and spread out.
This means that even during this period when we, as a nation, were far from
reaching the perfect service of Hashem, His Divine Radiance was still with us.  In the dark and immoral environment of Egypt, Israelite
slaves, who were deprived of all the benefits that culture and civilization are
thought to bestow, were being forged into a holy nation.  The very harshness of the bondage actually
strengthened the potential in each Israelite, so that when the time was ripe,
Hashem would redeem us. The teaching here is very profound as it is a lesson to
us that suffering and affliction can have very beneficial results. We do not
ask for tests, but if they come, they can inspire our best performances. From
this spiritual plateau we will not only be free from Pharaoh and Mitzrayim but
we will be able to fulfill the will of the Creator in the holy land of Eretz Israel.

               May we merit this soon in our
days.  

All articles appearing on this blog are copyrighted by Rabbi Yehoshua Binyamin Falk. All rights reserved. Permission is granted to share/download/copy this information as long as it is accompanied by the copyright. Separately authored/copyrighted materia