Parshat KI Tisa: Life and Death

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When the Jewish people came out of Mitzrayim many of them still had a pagen mindset. This mindset comforted them in worshipping death, and a life in the world to come, over truly living in the world which they physically walked.

Many pagan religions, and even some religions today, worship the comfort of death and a life in a world to come over the hear and now.

The worship of the golden calf, that the Jewish people made and worshiped as a replacement for their leader Moshe, and as a symbolic connector to G-d, symbolizes death. With the act of building and worshiping the golden calf,  the calf itself becomes a representation for disconnection and separation from the physical world in which they live and the laws an statutes which they pledged to follow.

Hashem, through his wisdom, transformed the cow from a symbol of death into the life affirming symbol. Through the ritual of the sprinkling of the ashes of the red heifer (known as the parah adumah), in order to cleanse oneself after coming in contact with death, an animal once used in separation and disconnection to the world around becomes important in daily life, as a representation and reminder of the importance of living.

Hashem, through the Torah, stresses for us the importance of living a G-dly existence here on earth. The main purpose of our existence is not to reach a world to come, but to do G-d’s will here on earth and live a life worthy of Hashem’s praises. Chassidus and kabbalah teaches us that our existence here on earth is of the utmost important, and when we live a life centred on Torah and mitzvoth, and thorough the act of elevating the mundane to the status of holy, we can create a world of holiness. This holiness allows for Hashem to come a dwell amongst us, and how much more life affirming can we get than this?

But if the above mentioned life affirming examples are not enough, the Torah not only symbolically stress the importance of life, it explicitly show us the transcending importance of life over death through the principle of Pikuach Nefesh – saving a life (Vayikra 19:16, parshat Kedoshim “Neither shall you stand by the blood of your neighbor”). This principal takes precedence over almost every other Torah commandment and reaffirms the importance of living over dying.

So, even though the worship of the golden calf was a symbol for death, through the commandment of the parah adumah the cow is turned into a symbol of the reaffirmed importance of life. Gut Shabbos.

Our Connection To Where We Live

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My commentary on a Parshat Pinchas commentary by a Rebbe and Tzaddik

What jumped out to me in the the following commentary (click at end of this post to read original commentary) on Parshat Pinchas by the Tzidkas Yosef of Pittsburgh ZT”L,  is another example of how we must always stay connected to this earth and where we live.

While we must make every effort to create a holy place to dwell in, for both G-d and mankind, we must also remain connected to the place where one lives, as well as the wider world around us. Don’t isolate yourself from, or shut yourself off to, the wider world and the things that G-d has bestowed upon us. This idea is especially important for our leaders and Tzaddikm who must also remain connected to where they live and the wider world around them. This is so they can properly lead and inspire their followers that have to live and breath in not only the Judaic world, but the wider world as well.

This is just what came to my mind when reading commentary on parshat Pinchas by The Tzidkas Yosef , Rabbi Yosef Leifer of Pittsburgh. Maybe it is my strong Chabad influence, so I look at everything with a “Chabad” eye, but I see many similarities between Chabad philosophy and Pittsburgh Chassidic philosophy.  Pittsburgh Chassidic Movement

If you feel my commentary is a little off, please comment below.
Enjoy the following commentary by the Tzidkas Yosef . Click Here

As a note, I went to a Farbrengen tonight and the idea of staying connected to where one lives and shlichus came up more than a few times by the Rebbe of Chabad (in a video from the 80’s). What an inspiring night, with wise and insightful comments and insights from my Rabbi and mentor. 

Parshat Bo and the Foundations of Prayer and Spirituality

Parshat  Bo and the changing of one’s mindset in anticipation of the new. Developing a deep rooted understanding in what G-d wants of us in terms of prayer and spirituality.

This past week I was studying the Torah portion of  Parshat Bo.  I was thinking and learning about mindset change, one of many themes in this week’s parshat.  While in my mind I was connecting my thoughts to to being a baal teshuvah, or returnee to traditional Judaism and increased spirituality,  I got a twitter link from a prominat Chabad Rabbi, Rabbi Pearl who had written about mindset change and spirituality. This was quite a pleasent surprise to me, that a Rabbi of such stature would be writing about the same topic I was contemplating, and making some of the same connections as well.  I later thought that maybe G-d, in his mysterious way,was indicated to me that my thinking was indeed on the correct path by giving validation to my thoughts by showing me that a more knowledgeable person in Torah, a Rabbi, had similar thoughts as I. 

Soon after, borrowing a thought or two from Rabbi Pearl and another great Rabbi, Rabbi DovBer Pinson, I formed my own conclusions and wrote a D’var Torah which I gave in Shul on Shabbos.

With minor adjustments, this is what I said.

The people in this week’s Torah portion are in a constricted place. They are slaves with little freedoms, if any. But with G-d and Moshe (Moses) moving towards releasing them from Pharaohs enslavement the Jewish people would have to change their mind to new possibilities and a new way of living.  It is not good enough for the Jews of Egypt to just follow Moshe and G-d out of Egypt to freedom. They had to change their mindset and way of thinking to new responsibilities needed to accommodate their pending freedom.  G-d knew that if the mindset of the Jewish people was not changed they would still be trapped by old ways of thinking and old habits.

When one is stuck in old ways or habits and wants to change, one must initiate a destruction of the old mould. One must recognize the need for a change and then start to break the old mould by taking a first step towards the new structure.  As a second step you must begin to see new possibilities then believe in the power of those you want. The third and final step is creating a new way of being and one must begin to apply “new possibilities”. One must now start to create new behaviors.

In this week’s Torah Portion, G-d commands the Jews to bring their sheep into their homes for four days before prior to sacrifice. The Jews needed four days to change their mindset. They had to come to terms that they would have discard what the Egyptians had show them, through ritual, to be sacred, like an idol.

Today, many times, people just jump headfirst into something new. While this can be a great way of breaking the mould, more often than not people forget to change their mindset in order to fully accept the new. Usually this method of going from the old to the new doesn’t create a sincere bonding with the new.

In terms of spirituality, many people dive into going to Shul and try to participate in prayer. Some people even try to learn, or study, prayer of liturgy.  While for some this method works, but for the vast majority of us it lacks a foundation that helps us change our mindset and thinking in order to appreciate and understand new spiritual realms in prayer and worship, and what true spiritually brings and teaches us.  After diving head first into prayer and liturgy, some people end-up not returning to Shul as often as they would, should or could. Others of us end up with a different path to some-sort superficial fulfillment through other branches of Judaism and yet others say: “This did nothing for me and it did not inspire me.” then they become drop outs.

Why does this happen?  I believe that one did not change their mindset in order to fully appreciate the nature of traditional spirituality, worship and prayer.

How, then, can we properly change our mindset? While there are probably many ways to do this I believe that the best way is through study and learning. One can study prayer and liturgy, but I don’t believe that this will give you a fundamental grasp of what G-d wants of us as Jewish people, for it does not open oneself up to a new way of thinking. In order to develop solid foundations and actually shift one’s mind towards the new, one must study Torah in all its forms Zohar Kabbalah, Tanya and Chassidut.

This will give you the proper foundation of knowing what G-d wants of you and how to sincerely worship the Aibishter.

Parshat Vayeitzei

 

The focus of this week’s Torah portion for me was the narrative where Jacob (Yakov Avinu) leaves his home town of Be’er Sheva and journeys to Charan.  Be’er Sheva is a place of comfort for Jacob. There Reside his family, friends, and community; where he lives a quiet, easy, comfortable lifestyle filled with all sort of Yiddishkeit.  Charan on the other hand is a place that is void of any Yiddishkeit, or at least obvious Judaism.

In recent years I have come to the realization that some Jewish communities insulate themselves and rarely venture out into the secular world. These communities are often cocooned in a little city area – a modern-day shtetl – and really don’t face the contemporary world, certainly that part of it where one faces many challenges to our Judaism. Many other Jewish people live there following a very secular lifestyle that conceals, almost hides, their Judaism. This group’s participation in Yiddishkeit only takes place in the comfort of their home or at Synagogue. For many participants in this group, their Yiddishkeit doesn’t appear, or confront them, on a daily basis.

What guides us to the correct way of life? Should you wrap yourself in a cocoon, isolating yourself from the many challenges of living a Judaic lifestyle? Maybe you should live a double life, one of secularism in the modern world and Judaism at home. Is there another option in order to say faithful to the principals, ideals and ways of a Torah true Judaism? And does Torah instruct us in this regard?

In the Torah portion of Vayeitzei, Yakov leave the comfort of Be’er Sheva and journeys into the hostile world of Chorran.  The great sages, teachers and Rebbes tell us that Yakov guarded the Torah and commandments and kept Yiddishkeit flowing in the hostile land of Choran.  Every day he was faced with forces that wanted him to change and adapt to ways that were less than ideal for a Torah observant man, but Yakov Avinu was able to keep his Judaism open and honest in the face of great pressures from his new community and extended family.

The Torah tells through our great commentators that we must go out into the “hostile” secular world with our Judaic-face-on (game-face-on). We must not cocoon ourselves into a comfort zone or isolate ourselves in a shtetl. We must face the world in order to make the un-g-dly g-dly. Elevate everything in the world towards G-d.  As an example, some communities shy away from computers and internet because of the ungodly and negative aspects that are found on the internet.  Other communities use the internet in order to spread the joy of Yiddishkeit and promote a Torah observant lifestyle. These people know the dangers that lurk on the internet and take great precautions to avoid them. They also see that the internet offers possibilities as a way to reach Jews and its ability to carry G-d’s messages instantly and to many people, and in a sense it elevates the internet as a medium to help fulfill our G-dly purpose in life.

There are many examples in the Torah that teach us that we need to go out into the world around us, remain Jewish and elevate everything around us to the G-dly.  How many times do we enter into the wider, secular world and our Judaism stays hidden? Is this how we should be as a nation, as a people, as Jews?

As Jews, when we go into the secular, we must not only take the teaching of Torah, Talmud, Tanya and other great Jewish texts and use them in our own lives to protect ourselves, and help us stay true to our Torah-based principles, but we must help construct the world by making the things around us have a G-dly purpose and we must be proud enough of our heritage and traditions that we are able to wear them openly and on our sleeves.

 

Note: I’m not judging anyone on how they define their Judaism or participation in a Judaic lifestyle because I once too was someone who concealed their Judaism, only letting it out at home or in Synagogue. What I now write is my view of what I now consider the most appropriate way to stay true to the principles and practices of Torah true Judaism.

Parshat Noach

Parshat Noach:
My thoughts, with knowledge borrowed from G_d and many other places!

This week’s torah portion is Parshat Noach. This is the story of Noach, the flood and the Ark. But at the deepest levels, the story is also more importantly about giving and receiving – two of the greatest qualities a person can have in life, I believe.  The parshat is also interesting for the detail it recounts about the event. Like, do you know where the measurements for the size and building of the ark came from? Yes G_d, but why and how?  Answer is forth coming.  Now back to this Noach, the flood and the ark.

Noach needed the Ark to give life to future generations.   In terms of the Kaballah and the Zohar, Noach is the attribute of Yessode and the ark is Malchut.   Yessode is an attribute representing focus or focused energy. And the ark, Taeva, a vessel, is representative of Malchut a receiving energy. This creates a unity, Yichud, that is a blend of Yessode and Malchut.

We all have two qualities, maybe one dominates, but two. One is giving and one is receiving.  Giving represents a male quality and receiving is a female quality. The quality of giving is the attribute of Yessode and the quality of receiving is Malchute. Both are seen as positive attributes. Noach, a righteous man or tzadik, for his time, represents unity, the flow between giving and receiving.

The people in Noach’s time were receivers and all they wanted to do is receive. What can I get, I want more, I’m not satisfied, I want more.  Because there was no giving or sharing, there was an eventual meltdown or slow destruction of the receiving qualities, Malchute, in human nature.

So the Torah and Kabbalah describes the people as Mala-chamas and the Zohar interprets this as a separation between the higher and lower waters. Higher waters representing the giving and lower waters the receiving.  The slow destruction of the vessel or life structure, Malchute, caused the flood.

The Torah and kaballah both talk about waters flows in conjunction with the flood. And waters rising up being receiving, because they were receiving powerful rains from above. And because there should always be harmony and unity you need an opposite force. The upper waters, the giving, came down to generate some semblance of unity. And finally, Noach and his entering into the ark, or vessel, can be seen as a balance, or the balance between giving and receiving as he was both a giver and a receiver and had to be so within the framework of the ark and the flood. I will explain how a bit later.

As humans and a community we can receive and we can give in life. Everything in life is a relationship balance.  As with almost everything in Judaism, there is a cycle. We must complete each cycle to create harmony. Here we must create a cycle of giving and receiving. We can’t have one dominate another. We must create a balance between the two to be able to partake fully in the cycle and ultimately complete the cycle, or at least balance out the cycle. And the completing of the cycle or balancing is when we are sharing as a society, both receiving, and then sharing what we receive with giving what we receive ensuring we always have enough to share.  Noach as we can now see is the balance between the two. This is one reason why he is considered a tzadik.  He has a balance between giving and receiving.  When he went into the ark he not only had to provide for his family, but he had to share with the animals.  Partly as a punishment for living in a society that had the dominant quality of  Malchut, and not a balance between Malchut and Yessode.

 To take this theme, or idea, a bit further,  in kabbalistic terms, let’s explore the name of Hashem. Hashem is spelled Yud, Hay, Vuv, Hay. The Yud, the first letter is the seed and has the male quality of giving and the hay has female quality of receiving. This is a unity, a unity between the giving and the receiving.   So you can see why the theme of giving and receiving is so important in human nature as we all should aspire to be godlike in our endeavours, and in striving to make the non-G_dly, G_dly.

Something else fascinating about this portion, while we are on the subject of Hashem is the dimensions of the ark  is that it was 300 in length, 50 at its width and 30 at its height.  300 X 50 X 30.

Hashem, Yud, Hay, Vuv, Hay, the yud is represented by the number 10 and the hay is 5 and as I said earlier the Yud, Hay, Vuv, Hay is representing unity and unity in giving and receiving. If we multiply Yud and Hay and get 5 X 10 which equals 50, the width of the vessel or ark.  The vuv is represented by the number 6. Hay is now 50, so 6 X 50 equals 300 which is the length. And finally we have the final hey which is back to 5 and now we multiply hey and vuv or 5 x 6 and we get 30 the height of the ship. Amazing, if I must say so.  We can now wee that the qualities of Hashem, giving and receiving are now in the ark, the actual structure or measurements of the ark. We can again see how important these two qualities are, and the importance that G_d places on them.  The ark also represents the structure of our lives which can in some ways be measure by how much we give and receive, or the unity between Malchut and Yessode. As the ark ultimately survived the flood because of its structure, we too can help ourselves and the world, or mankind, survive through our structure and unity of giving and receiving.  This is what the portion represents. While on the surface, on the waves, it represents a nice little story about a man, a people and a flood. The depths and wisdom or on the deepest floors of the ocean we can see that a whole new set of themes arises.  Just as the tides of the oceans shift, so must our knowledge, wisdom and conciseness shift.  Shift from a mentality of receiving to a cycle of giving, receiving and ultimately a state of pure sharing.

Finally, the Zohar says that these are not separate action. We do not work to receive and then at a later date give of our wealth, time, etc.. This is unfortunately most people’s mentality. 

We must change our thinking and approaches to giving and receiving in life.  Giving and receiving is the same process.  One cannot give if one only receives, and one cannot receive if only gives.  In order to embody G_d in our life, Yud, Hey, Vuv, Hey, we must think of giving and receiving as one and the same.  You should not look at what you have received and then give. One must just share, meaning the more we not give, but share, the more we receive and the more we receive the more must share. That being not only money and materials, but time, energy, and compassion. And this cannot happen in a vacuum. Don’t get comfortable with the giving and receiving you already do. You must leave your own personal ark, or boundaries you have placed around your giving and receiving, and start to engage in giving and receiving that might be uncomfortable or unfamiliar to you. This is how we start to share and repair the world, Tikkun Olam.

L’chaim  and Todah Rabbah.