Wednesday, June 28, 2017

The Goal Is Subordination

Sfas Emes blog 

The Midrash relates the argument Bil’am used to try to convince God to side with the nations of the world against the nation of Israel. Bil’am’s point was simple. Would it not be better to be worshiped by seventy nations than one nation? At first glance, Bil’am’s argument to God was a good one. Does it not indeed make more sense to include the nations of the world?

God answered, the Midrash[1] tells us, with a pasuk from Mishlei, “טוֹב פַּת חֲרֵבָה וְשַׁלְוָה־בָהּ מִבַּיִת מָלֵא זִבְחֵי־רִיב/Better dry bread and peace than a house full of contentious celebrations.” (Mishlei 17:1) The Midrash explains the metaphor. The dry bread represents the nation of Israel.The house full of contentious celebrations represents the nations of the world. God would rather be worshiped by the nation of Israel than the nations of the world if their purpose is to insert a wedge of discord between Him and Israel.

This answer seems to beg the question though for if each nation truly submits to God, why would God prefer Israel? The answer, the Chiddushei HaRim says, is that the nations of the world are disingenuous regarding their submission to God. While the nations of the world certainly accomplish great things, Chazal teach us that they are far from altruistic.[2] Rather, their own interests motivate them. They may perform acts of kindness, but it is only to lord it over others. Bil'am himself subordinated himself to God, "... אִם־יִתֶּן־לִי בָלָק מְלֹא בֵיתוֹ כֶּסֶף וְזָהָב לֹא אוּכַל לַעֲבֹר אֶת־פִּי ה׳ אֱ־לֹהָי .../.. Were Balak to give me his house full of silver and gold, I cannot transgress the word of God, my Lord …” (Bemidbar 22:18) Yet Chazal learn from this very pasuk that Balak really wanted all that money.

Sincerity, then, differentiates us from the nations of the world. God prefers our worship to theirs since it is sincere. The nations of the world use their submission to God as a springboard for self aggrandizement. The nation of Israel also submits. However, for our righteous, the submission is an end in and of itself. Even when we ask God to help us reach higher levels, it is to come closer to Him, to be able to submit even more.

Conventionally, a lowly soul – נֶפֶשׁ שְׁפֵלָה – one of the good character traits that Avraham Avinu teaches his students, is one who spurns the base desires and temptations of the physical world. Bil’am, Chazal[3] tell us, had an expansive soul – נֶפֶשׁ רְחָבָה. He surrendered to his physical desires and used his stature to do so.

The Sfas Emes, however, gives us a deeper understanding of a lowly soul. Unlike Bil’am, it is one who does not use his work to come close to God in a self serving way. Of course, he will not use his service to God as a way of satisfying base desires. He also will not use his service to God as a means for reaching higher spiritual levels and gaining more spiritual power. Unquestionably, as a byproduct of his work, he will reach higher spiritual levels. But these achievements are not his goal. Instead, he uses those levels to further subordinate himself to the infinite God.

[1] Bemidbar R. 20:18

[2] Bava Basra 10b

[3] Avos 5:19

אא"ז מורי ז"ל הגיד על המדרש שאמר בלעם טוב להיות נעבד מע' אומות והשיב הקב"ה טוב פת חריבה כו'. אף שכל אומה תתן כחה להכניע להקב"ה. מ"מ אינה באמת כמ"ש חז"ל מה דעבדין לגרמייהו כו'. הרי במה שהכניע עצמו בלעם הרשע לפנים ואמר אם יתן לי כו' לא אוכל לעבור כו' ומזה עצמו נלמד רוח גבוהה שלו. והחילוק הוא נקודה האמיתיות שסט"א מכניע כדי לגנוב ולעלות. ואנחנו בני ישראל גם העליות שמבקשין מהשי"ת שנוכל להתקרב אליו כדי להכניע ולשוב ליראתו באמת. וזהו סוף הרצון שבישראל לבוא לההכנעה [וזהו נפש שפלה שרוצה להישאר כך]:

Our Souls Are Connected To The Land

Sfas Emes blog 

“... וַתֹּאמֶר לְבִלְעָם מֶה־עָשִׂיתִי לְךָ כִּי הִכִּיתַנִי זֶה שָׁלֹש רְגָלִים/(The donkey) said to Bil’am, ‘What did I do to you that you hit me three times?” (Bamidbar 22:28) The word “time” is found many times in the Torah as “פַּעַם.” This is the only place in Tanach where the word regel is used to mean “time.” Why? The Midrash answers that the Torah is alluding to the shalosh regalim, Pesach, Shavuos and Succos, the three holidays that we celebrate each year.[1] God is berating Bil’am for wanting to destroy a nation that celebrates these three holidays.

The nation keeps many mitzvos. Why did God hint specifically at the shalosh regalim? The allusion to the three holidays specifically, is a response to Balak’s complaint. Balak’s stated purpose was to prevent the nation from entering the land of Israel, “... אוּלַי אוּכַל נַכֶּה־בּוֹ וַאֲגֳרְשֶׁנּוּ מִן־הָאָרֶץ .../… Perhaps I will be able to strike them and banish them from the land …” (Bamidbar 22:6) The Sfas Emes explains that from the three holidays we learn of the special connection between the nation of Israel and the land of Israel. By alluding to the shalosh regalim God is telling Bil’am that there is a special relationship between the nation of Israel and this particular land. No other land will do.

How do the shalosh regalim indicate a special relationship between the nation of Israel and the land of Israel? A primary element of the shalosh regalimcelebrations is the aliya laregel, the requirement for every male to go up to the Beis HaMikdash on the holiday. The Sfas Emes explains that aliya laregel is a testimony that the land of Israel was set aside specifically for the nation of Israel as David HaMelech wrote in Tehillim (122:4), “שֶׁשָּׁם עָלוּ שְׁבָטִים ... עֵדוּת לְיִשְׂרָאֵל .../For there the tribes ascended … a testimony for Israel …” Bil’am himself prophesied this, “כִּי־מֵרֹאשׁ צֻרִים אֶרְאֶנּוּ וּמִגְּבָעוֹת אֲשׁוּרֶנּוּ .../For I will see him (the nation) from the top of mountain peaks and will view him from hills.” (Bamidbar 23:9) The plain meaning of this prophecy is that every mountain peak and hilltop was designated for the nation of Israel. He saw the nation filling the entire land. 

Chazal also mention this relationship.[2] Chazal teach us that God acquired, as it were, five things in this world. Three of the five are the heavens and the earth, the nation of Israel and the Beis HaMikdash. That these are mentioned together in this mishna indicates that there is a strong relationship between them. 

What is the nature of this relationship? The Sfas Emes explains that the children of Israel have qualities which exactly match the qualities inherent in the land of Israel. Just as the Zohar[3] teaches that the land of Israel and the Beis Hamikdash are the foundation from which the entire Creation sprung, so too, the Sfas Emes teaches, the children of Israel are the foundation for all the souls in the Creation.[4]

The land of Israel needs the nation for its tikun/rectification. Chazal teach us that Bil’am’s blessing, “מִי מָנָה עֲפַר יַעֲקֹב .../Who can count the dirt of Ya’akov …” (Bamidbar 23:10) is referring to the many mitzvos which are fulfilled only in the dirt of the land of Israel. The mitzvos of tithing, shmitta and many other mitzvos can only be fulfilled in the land of Israel. These mitzvos are needed to rectify the land and only the children of Israel are able to perform these mitzvos. This is why God blessed Ya’akov by comparing his descendents to the dirt of the land, “וְהָיָה זַרְעֲךָ כַּעֲפַר הָאָרֶץ .../Your progeny shall be like the dirt of the land.” (Breishis 28:14) The Creator prepared the dirt of the land of Israel specifically for the descendents of Ya’akov. Only we can rectify it. 

Just as He measured the land, “מִי־מָדַד ... וְכָל בַּשָּׁלִשׁ עֲפַר הָאָרֶץ .../Who measured with a measure the dirt of the land …,” (Yeshaya 40:12) He also measured the dirt of Ya’akov, “מִי מָנָה עֲפַר יַעֲקֹב .../Who can count the dirt of Ya’akov …” The Sfas Emes teaches us that that each grain of dirt in the land of Israel is associated with a Jewish soul. May we merit appreciating the integral connection between us and our land and to fulfilling the mitzvos needed to rectify it!

[1] Bamidbar R. 20:14
[2] Avos 6:10
[3] Zohar 2:222a-b
[4] The Creation is structured as a hierarchy leading from most to least spiritual. Life giving energy flows from the Creator through the spiritual realms and finally to the physical world, giving existence to all. The souls of the nation of Israel are an integral part of this hierarchy. (see Nefesh HaChaim 1:17 and 2:17)

במדרש ג' רגלים רמז לו שביקש לעקור אומה החוגגת ג' רגלים. ולמה דוקא מצוה זו. אך דהג' רגלים שעלו בנ"י לרגל הי' עדות שהמה מיוחדים לירושת הארץ וביהמ"ק כדכ' יראה כל זכורך כו' במקום אשר יבחר. וכ' ששם עלו שבטים כו' עדות לישראל. וכן אמר אותו רשע כי מראש צורים אראנו ומגבעות אשורנו. לפי פשוטו שראה בנבואה כי כל צור וגבעה בא"י מיוחד לבנ"י. וארץ ישראל אשר הנחיל השי"ת לאבותינו ולנו אינו במקרה רק כשברא העולם והי' יסוד העולם ארץ ישראל וביהמ"ק. כמו כן בנ"י יסוד הנפשות וכל הציור של א"י וביהמ"ק הוא מכוון לציור של בנ"י דאיתא ישראל קנין אחד כו' שמים וארץ כו' ביהמ"ק כו' וכל אלה הקנינים שייכים זה לזה. ולאשר אמר ואגרשנו מן הארץ הראה לו הקב"ה כי הארץ מיוחד להם. וכ' מי מנה עפר יעקב מצות שעושין בעפר. פי' מצות שהם חובת קרקע ונוהגין בארץ כי הם תקונים השייכים לא"י ואין מי שיתקן זאת רק בנ"י. וכ' והי' זרעך כעפר הארץ ומי שאמר והי' העולם הכין עפר הארץ לזרע יעקב. וכמו שנתן מדה ומנין לעפר הארץ כדכ' מי מדד כו' וכל בשליש עפר הארץ כן מי מנה עפר יעקב ולכל גרגורי עפר מארץ ישראל מיוחדים נפשות פרטיות מישראל:

תרמ"ח ב' 

Disciples of Avraham and Disciples of Bil'am

Sfas Emes Blog 

Chazal[1] in a Mishna in Avos teach us that the disciples of Avraham Avinu are recognized by three character traits. They are generous, humble and live simply. The disciples of Bil’am the wicked have three opposite qualities, stinginess, arrogance, and greed. Bil’am’s students have poor character traits, to be sure. But one need not be a disciple of Bil’am to learn these traits. In fact, any fool can develop these bad character traits without learning from anyone. What exactly, then, do the disciples of Bil’am learn from him? Conversely, what do the disciples of Avraham Avinu learn from him?

The interesting thing about Bil’am is that he subordinates himself to God. For example, in response to Balak’s appeal that he curse the nation of Israel, he claims that even if Balak would give him his entire estate filled with silver and gold he cannot transgress the word of God.[2] Yet, from this very response Chazal learn that Bil’am was greedy.[3] Why do Chazal consider him to be so wicked? The Sfas Emes explains that Bil’am viewed himself as a very important person who does God’s will notwithstanding his own importance. 

Bil’am used service to God for his own ends, to increase his own egotism. This idea is alluded to in the pasuk describing Bil’am, “... נֹפֵל וּגְלוּי עֵינַָיִם/… fallen and revealed to him.” (Bamidbar 24:4) True, he falls before God. But he does so only to achieve a higher level to feed his bloated ego. Bil’am teaches his students to use service to God to achieve personal goals.

The righteous, on the other hand, have a simple soul. They ask nothing for themselves. Their sole desire is to be close to God, the source of life. They want to be God’s tool in this world, like an axe in the hands of a wood chopper. 

In fact, this is the only way to merit the next world. Chazal[4] tell us that this world is a corridor leading to the next world which is compared to a hall. The corridor is the only path to the hall. The only way to get to the next world is through this one. This is because the next world is so completely holy and spiritual that it is beyond our comprehension. It is impossible for someone who is completely disconnected from anything spiritual to merit the next world. What must we do, then, to merit it? The Sfas Emes explains that by revealing holiness in this world we connect to holiness, to God’s life force. This connection enables us to experience the next world.

The Ba’al Shem Tov explains that this is the meaning of the second half of the mishnah quoted above. The second part of the mishnah states that the disciples of Avraham Avinu benefit (lit.אוֹכְלִין /eat) in this world and נוֹחְלִין/inherit in the next world. The Ba’al Shem Tov explains that Chazal are not simply listing the rewards awaiting the disciples of Avraham Avinu. Rather they are teaching us about the relationship between this world and the next. Chazal alluded to this relationship by using the word nochlin for inherit instead of the more common יורשים.  Inherit - נוחלין, has the same root as the word נַחַל/stream. The Ba’al Shem Tov explains that benefiting from this world is not part of the reward. Rather, it is part of the work. Whenever we benefit from this world we must channel the stream of God’s life force into the activity. Chazal are telling us that we must inject some of the next world’s holiness into our activities in this world. 

By revealing the hidden holiness inherent in this world, we will merit experiencing the hidden holiness of the next world. The mishnah brings proof from a pasuk in Mishlei (8:21), “לְהַנְחִיל אֹהֲבַי יֵשׁ וְאֹצְרֹתֵיהֶם אֲמַלֵּא/I have something to bequeath those who love me and I will fill their storehouses.” The next world is referred to as אַיִן/nothing because it is not tangible and it is beyond our comprehension. When we reveal hidden holiness in this world, we develop a connection to it. This connection allows us to see and experience the אַיִן/nothing of the next world as יֵשׁ/something.

This, then, is the teaching of Avraham Avinu. Once we view ourselves as agents of God and consider that God is the absolute and singular force giving life and existence to everything, then generosity, humility, and living simply, follow.

Bil’am teaches his students exactly the opposite. He teaches that we can and should gain personally even from subservience to God. Chazal in fact teach us that that any kindness the nations of the world did, they did for their own benefit.[5] This is why the mishnah states that the students of Bil’am inherit gehinom. Gehinom represents God’s concealment, the opposite of the next world. By introducing evil into the good that they do, Bil’am’s disciples conceal even the Godliness that would otherwise have been revealed by their positive actions. They, thus, inherit the ultimate concealment of God.

May we merit being the disciples of Avraham Avinu. Amen!

[1]Avos 5:19
[2]Bamidbar 22:18
[3]Tanchuma Balak 6
[4]Avos 4:16
[5]Tikunei Zohar 6:22b

ב"ה פ' בלק 

במשנה מי שיש בו ג' דברים הללו מתלמידיו של א"א ע"ה עין טובה רוח נמוכה נפש שפלה כו' ולהיפוך בלעם הרשע כו' מה בין תלמידיו כו' תלמידי א"א אוכלין בעוה"ז ונוחלין לעוה"ב שנאמר להנחיל אוהבי יש ותלמידי בלעם הרשע יורשין גיהנם ויורדין לבאר שחת כו'. 

ומהו שם תלמידי בלעם. כי מה נלמד ממנו. ומדות רעות הללו עין רעה ורוח גבוהה כו' יוכל למצוא כל שוטה בלי לימוד. אך כי גם הרשעים מכניעים עצמם והרי אמר אם יתן לי כו' מלא ביתו כו' לא אוכל לעבור כו' ומזה עצמו נלמד שהי' נפש רחבה. כי זה נחשב אצלו לחשיבות להקב"ה מה שהוא מכניע עצמו אף שהוא חשוב מאוד. וכל ההכנעה שלו רק כדי לבוא למדריגה מה להתגאות אח"כ וז"ש נופל וגלוי עינים שע"י ההכנעה בא למדרגתו. אבל הצדיקים נפש שפלה שאין מבקשים רק להיות דבוק בחי החיים לידע תמיד שאין חיות לשום ברי' רק כח ה'. כגרזן ביד החוצב. וכל פעולה יהי' דבוק בכח הפנימיות. ומסיים מה בין תלמידיו כו' ופי' הבעש"ט אוכלין בעוה"ז ובזה עצמו נוחלין לעוה"ב מלשון נחל שממשיכין חיות השי"ת גם לעניני עוה"ז ע"ש. כי באמת עוה"ז דומה לפרוזדור כי עוה"ב למעלה מהשגה ואיך יוכל אדם לגשת לזה רק ע"י שמקרב עניני עוה"ז להקדושה זוכה שיתגלו לו עניני עוה"ב כי ב' אלו העולמות תלוין זה בזה. עוה"ז נעלם הקדושה ע"י התאוות וקליפות. ועוה"ב נעלם ע"י שמאין תמצא ונעלמת מכל. אך מי שמוציא הארה הגנוזה בתוך ההעלם שבעוה"ז. זוכה שיתגלה לו ההעלם שבעוה"ב ג"כ. וז"ש להנחיל אוהבי יש שזוכה לראות בבחי' אין כאילו הי' ממשות [וזה כל ענין הבריאה יש מאין שמקודם הי' רק אין. והש"י ע"י העשרה מאמרות שבתורה ברא העולם. באורייתא ברא קוב"ה עלמא. שפנימיות העולם הוא בחי' אין באמת כנ"ל] וזהו שעוה"ז כפרוזדור כו'. וזה לימוד אאע"ה להמשיך כל העשי' אחר חיות הפנימיות וממילא עין טובה כו' כיון שהכל כח הש"י בלבד. ולהיפוך לימוד בלעם הרשע שאף הכנעה לצורך גיאות. וז"ש לגרמייהו עבדין להיות לו מדרגה והתנשאות. ועי"ז יורש גיהנם ג"כ היפוך הנ"ל שאף שהי' לו קצת מדרגה בקדושה שהרי הי' נביא. רק ע"י שהמשיך החטאים בתוך קצת מעש"ט שהיו לו. עי"ז הכניס הרע לתוך הטוב ויורש גיהנם כנ"ל:

תרל"א מאמר א'

What Happens When We Stay On The Path Of Truth

The Sfas Emes blog 

In the haftara of Balak the prophet exhorts us to remember the story of Bil’am and Balak, “עַמִּי זְכָר־נָא מַה־יָעַץ בָּלָק מֶלֶךְ מוֹאָב וּמֶה־עָנָה אֹתוֹ בִּלְעָם בֶּן־בְּעוֹר ... לְמַעַן דַּעַת צִדְקוֹת ה׳׃/My people, please remember what Balak, king of Moav schemed and what Bil’am son of Be’or answered him … in order to recognize the righteous acts of God.” (Micha 6:5) Also, Chazal relate the importance of remembering the story of Balak. There were even those who wanted this story to be a part of Kri’as Shma.[1] It isn’t, the Gemara tells us only because it would have inordinately lengthened Kri’as Shma. What is so important, so significant, about the story of Balak that the prophet asks us specifically to remember it and that it almost became a part of the Krias Shma?

The story of Balak is unique in that an implacable enemy was not only ineffective; he actually blessed us against his own will instead of cursing us. When the nation follows the path of truth and is aligned with God’s will even their most implacable and hostile enemies submit to God’s will.

We find this same idea on a personal level as well. Chazal tell us that two angels, a good one and a bad one, escort each of us home from the synagogue Friday night. If they find a home prepared for Shabbos, the good angel says, “May it be your will that this will happen next Shabbos as well.” The bad angel answers Amen against his will.

We actually pray for this in the prayer that we say immediately following the Amida, “וְכָל הַחוֹשְׁבִים עָלַי רָעָה מְהֵרָה הָפֵר עַצָתָם וְקַלְקֵל מַחְשַׁבְתָּם/And all who wish me ill, quickly overturn their scheme and corrupt their thoughts.”

Many times we are faced with hostile and vicious enemies. There seems to be no way to overcome them. From the story of Balak we learn that although we may not be able to overcome the enemy in a direct manner, there are other options. Although it seems improbable, it is an important part of serving God to cultivate a strong belief that all our enemies, even those who are the complete antithesis of holiness must subside and submit to the will of God. There is no such thing as a creation acting autonomously, even our cruelest enemies.

Our worst enemies will submit to God’s will though, only if we compromise not an iota, if we stay on the path of truth, the path of God. Then we will merit not only the destruction of our enemies but their blessing, just as the nation of Israel merited it on the plains of Moav.

[1] Brachos 12b

בפ' זכר נא כו' גם בגמ' בקשו לקבוע פ' בלק בק"ש בכל יום. כי צריך אדם להיות חזק בעבודת השי"ת להאמין כי אף כל הסט"א ומתנגדים להקדושה כולם מתבטלין לרצון הקב"ה ורק כשאדם הולך בדרך אמת שהרי בלעם על כרחו בירך אותם כענין שכ' בעל כרחו יענה אמן ודבר זה נוהג בכל זמן לכל איש ישראל שחושבין עליו עצות רעות וע"ז מבקשין הפר עצתם כו':

שנת תרל"ב

The Concealed Light

The Sfas Emes blog 

וירא בלק ... את כל אשר עשה ישראל לאמורי: ויגר מואב מפני העם מאד כי רב הוא .../Balak … saw everything that Israel did to the Emorites. Moav was very afraid of the people for they were many …" (Bamidbar 22:2,3) Why was Moav afraid? The nation of Israel had no designs on Moav's land. Israel even acquiesced to Moav's request that the people not traverse Moav in order to enter Cana'an.[1]

Balak and Moav were not concerned that Israel would conquer their land. They were concerned about something far deeper. We can learn what was bothering Balak from the Zohar's[2] explanation of a pasuk in Tehillim (31:20), "מה רב טובך אשר צפנת ליראיך .../How great is the good that You have hidden for those who are in awe of You …" 

What is the "good" that God has hidden for the righteous and where did He hide it? The Zohar teaches that the good is the first light that God created, "וירא א-להים את האור כי טוב/God saw that the light was good." (Breishis 1:4) The Zohar says that this first light was not the physical light that we see today. The physical light of today comes from the celestial bodies and from fire in all its forms. The first light must have been something else since it was created before the celestial bodies and before fire. Rather, the first light may be better understood as enlightenment. It was the enlightenment that came from the Torah which God used to create the world[3] and which is hidden within the works of the Creation.

Chazal[4] teach us that the pasuk, "וירא א-להים את כל אשר עשה והנה טוב מאד/God saw everything that He did and behold it was very good," (Breishis 1:31) refers to the angel of death and the evil inclination. How so? The angel of death and evil inclination represent God's concealment in the physical world. They represent the concealment of the hidden light of the Torah. God saw that everything He made was very good because the light of the Torah, which was referred to before as "good" was hidden in everything that God had made.

While there will come a time when God, according to His Divine plan will reveal the hidden light, our mission is to find that hidden light now. The result is a revelation of the undeniable truth. In this way we can influence our surroundings to become subordinate to God. The children of Israel as they sojourned in the desert experienced the hidden light all the time. They lived with daily miracles. The effect on their surroundings was dramatic.

Balak was unavoidably affected as well. "וירא בלק .../Balak saw" that God's glory was revealed, "ואמרו אל יושב הארץ הזאת ... אשר עין בעין נראה אתה .../They will say about the inhabitants of this land … that God appears to them eye to eye …" (Bamidbar 14:14) This revelation of holiness totally contradicted Balak's view of reality. In fact, Balak refers to this when he says, "... עם יצא ממצרים הנה כסה את עין הארץ .../… a nation left Egypt; behold it covered the face (lit. eye) of the land …" (Bamidbar 22:5) ארץ/Land represents nature. It represents Balak's view of reality. He considered the holiness to which he was exposed as covering up his own eyes so that he could not see reality clearly. This is the exact opposite of the truth.

Balak saw this and was afraid. He was afraid of the aspect of "hidden light" represented by מאד/very in the pasuk, a reference to the hidden light which is described in the story of the Creation as "very good". The nation of Israel caused him to be exposed to the hidden light. The words, "כי רב הוא/for they (the people of Israel) are many," is a reference to, "מה רב טובך/How great is your good (i.e. the hidden light)."

According to the Sfas Emes, Balak saw the revelation of God's glory. He was unable to assimilate the holiness and was therefore afraid. It totally contradicted his view of reality.

The nation's sojourn in the desert, then, was an important preparatory period for the nation before entering the land of Israel. It was during this period that the notion of the hidden light became totally ingrained and internalized in the national psyche. 

The land of Israel, according to the Zohar[5] is the center point of the entire world. The very force that causes the entire Creation to exist comes first from this center point and sustains all. Experiencing and being exposed to the hidden light was thus crucial to being able to benefit fully from life in the land of Israel.

[1] Viz. Shoftim 11:17
[2] Zohar 3:88a
[3] Zohar 1:5a Introduction
[4] Breishis R. 9:7,10
[5] Zohar 1:108b

וירא בלק כו' ויגר כו' מאוד כי רב הוא. כתיב מה רב טובך כו' אור הגנוז כו' כי הקב"ה גנז אור התורה במעשה בראשית וע"ז כ' וירא אלקים כו' כל אשר עשה כו' טוב מאוד ודרשו חז"ל על מה"מ ויצה"ר ע"ש. ועבודתינו הוא למצוא הארה הגנוזה ואז נתגלה האמת ומכניעין הכל להקב"ה. ובנ"י דור המדבר כן היו שהאירו אור הגנוז בכל מקום מסעם. וכתיב וירא בלק שבע"כ ראה מה שנתגלה כבוד מלכותו עין בעין נראה כו' וזה הי' נקרא לבלק הרשע כיסוי עינים כמ"ש כסה כו' עין הארץ. כי אין הרשע יכול להסתכל באמת. ויגר כו' מאוד מבחי' מאוד הנ"ל שהיה עומד שיבררו בנ"י כל הבירור כראוי וז"ש כי רב הוא כנ"ל. וקודם שהלכו בנ"י לא"י הי' זה הכנה להתקשר באור הגנוז כנ"ל. [בחי' א"י הוא נקודה אמצעיות שבכל העולם כמ"ש בזוה"ק וירא]:

שנת תרל"ב

Seeing The Ruchniyus In Everything

From the Sfas Emes blog

Balak complains to Bil'am, "... עם יצא ממצרים הנה כסה את עין הארץ .../… a nation came out of Egypt, behold it covers the face of the land …" (Bamidbar 22:8) Literally, "… it covers the eye of the land …" The Sfas Emes explains that this wording can be understood in two ways.

1. People perceive reality in two ways. Most see things as they appear physically. Some also see the inner wisdom and spirituality within the physical. The nation of Israel that left Egypt was on a high spiritual level. The people saw the inner spirituality in themselves and everything that surrounded them. Their spiritual power was so strong that it affected their environment to the extent that the nations they passed also experienced a revelation of the spiritual latent in everything physical. The nations though, because of their low spiritual level, were unable to assimilate these experiences. Instead of being enlightened and recognizing the spiritual as reality, they experienced it as a veneer that covered their reality – the physical world with which they were familiar. Balak expressed this feeling when he said, כסה את עין הארץ/it covers the eye of land. The eye of the land refers to his physical reality which was being covered by an experience of the truth, the connection of everything to God. Naturally, this was disconcerting for him.
2. כסה את עין הארץ/It covers the eye of land, can be understood in another way. עין הארץ/Eye of the land refers to God's providence over the physical world as we find, "... תמיד עיני ה' א-להיך בה .../… God your Lord's eyes are always upon it (the land) …" (Devarim 11:12)
God's providence is hidden in everything. God's providence is hidden in each one of us. This is the spiritual power that is within us. We have the ability to use this power, latent within us, for spiritual goals. We can also abuse it by applying it to further physical goals. Everything has a consequence, though. If we use our spiritual power to better our position in the physical world, we expose that power to the physical world and the nations of the world can rule over it. It is then that we are harassed by the nations. It is then that the nations are able to make religious life difficult for us. However, to the extent that we protect our spirituality, it is not exposed to the nations and they cannot touch the holiness of the nation of Israel.
כסה את עין הארץ/It covers the eye of the land, means that the nation of Israel used the spiritual power within to attain spiritual goals. We thereby protected that power from exposure to the nations.
The Sfas Emes explains that both understandings flow from the same concept. To the extent that we do not use our inner spiritual life-force to further physical goals, we recognize that the spiritual is reality. We attach more importance to the spiritual than to the physical. In fact, when this recognition is total – at the final redemption – the physical will be understood clearly to have no separate existence. It is simply a manifestation of the spiritual reality.
In essence, this represents the ultimate rectification of the physical world. Balak and Bil'am recognized this and were concerned. They wanted no part of this rectification. They liked the physical world as they perceived it. This is what Balak meant when he said that they are covering God's providence (they are not using it to enhance the physical) and they are sitting directly opposite me (they are going to affect me as well!)
May we merit recognizing the spiritual power that is latent within us and using it to bring us closer to God. Amen!

כסה את עין הארץ כו'

 י"ל ב' פירושים שבנ"י מכסין השגחה החיצוניות בגשמיות. רק להיות ניכר חיות הפנימיות בכל דבר. וכאשר בנ"י יצאו ממצרים האירו פני תבל עד שנתגלה הקדושה בכל מקום עד שגם האומות ראו שלא בטובתם כמ"ש וירא בלק. וחרה להם ע"ז כמ"ש פן יראה בעיניו כו'. 

ועוד יש פי' שבנ"י בעבודתם צריכין להסתיר נקודה הפנימיות מלכותו ית' אשר בכל משלה והשגחתו ית' נסתר בכל דבר ובנ"י צריכין לשמור נקודה זו. והענין כפי מה שאדם שומר כח פנימיות שבו שלא להשתמש בו לגשמיות. כמו כן נשמר ואין שולט מגע נכרי בפנימיות. וכל מה ששולטת עין רע שלהם בקדושת ישראל הוא ע"י חסרון שמירת הפנימיות כנ"ל. וז"ש כסה כו' עין הארץ היא השגחה האמיתיות כמ"ש תמיד עיני ה' אלקיך בה כו'. ומצינו שיוסף הגין שלא יביט עשו ברחל והוא כענין הנ"ל. וב' אלו הפירושים הם ענין אחד שכפי מה ששומרים חיות הפנימיות שלא להשתמש בו לגשמיות ממילא מעלין החיות שבכל דבר לשורשו עד שמתבטל כל החיצוניות כמו שיהי' לעתיד שלא יהי' כלל חיות רק לסטרא דקדושה. וזה העיקר שחרה לבלק ובלעם כי רצו שבנ"י שיצאו ממצרים ילכו לדרכם ולא יכנסו בתיקון הגשמיות. אך ואעפ"כ והוא יושב ממולי דוקא כנ"ל:

שנת תרל"ג

The Modern Music Explosion

When I was a kid there were about two popular Jewish singers [Carlebach and MBD] one popular choir [Miami] and that was about it. 

In the last decade or two there has been an explosion of Jewish music [I am listening to music as I write this]. 

I see that as a positive development. A]  Better Jewish music than the alternative. B] Music makes people happy and often more connected to spirituality. C] A lot of people are making a good parnassa off this market. 

Recently someone desscribed how he went to a store in Bnei Brak to buy Mordechai Ben David's latest album. He was told that they were already all sold out.

He went to a second store and managed to salvage the very last copy.

It made me wonder. There is already SOOOOO MUCH music out there. Bnei Brak is a poor town [very large families, very low income]. Yet, people have a need to rush to the store to spend money on the latest album. What does this reveal?

Like we have pointed out numerous times on these pages, everything we do is in order to fulfill a need, whether it be spiritual, emotional or physical. If we were truly content we would do nothing. The goal is to feel a minimal amount of material needs and a maximal amount of spiritual needs. 

What is so lacking in people's lives that they need to buy the latest album right away??

I'll tell you who WASN'T at the store purchasing a copy: Rav Chaim Kneyevski, Rav Shteinman and Rav Berel Povarsky [the Rosh Yeshiva of Ponovitch]. Why? They are not lacking another music album.

I write this not as a criticism with an expectation that people should be on the level of gedolei torah, but as a trigger to think about what we feel we lack, how we go about fulfilling those needs and what it says about us.  

In Her Place - Link

Rabbi Yisrael Besser 

Ad shetagi’a l’mekomo. Last night, I got to do that, to sit in the place of another, which means that now I’m entitled to judge. 

My daughter graduated high school, which is very meaningful because it’s one car pool less. (Not an end to tuition though, because it turns out that school tuition is child’s play next to the cost of seminary. And that, in turn, is nothing — from what I’m told — compared to what follows. And when it comes to support, you don’t get to negotiate with a committee either. Tuition is just a trial run for real life.) 

The graduation ceremony was very nice. I think. 

It’s a mainstream chareidi Bais Yaakov, a fine institution with policies that reflect a commitment to halachah and the spirit of Yiddishkeit. 

Like a relatively new rule about fathers being kind of invited, kind of uninvited, to the graduation. I distinctly remember my father going to my sisters’ graduations, but maybe there’s some new evidence that that generation didn’t know about. All I know is that on the printed invitation, a start time was announced, and then, in a smaller font, fathers were informed as to when they were expected. 

My wife left on time and asked me to get the little children ready and bring them with me, whenever it would be. Her tone indicated that it wouldn’t make that much of a difference. 
I arrived at the suggested time, but one of the valedictorians was still speaking, so the fathers stood outside and made awkward conversation and felt demeaned. 

There, I said it. 

It’s a weird thing to be the outsiders, the second-class citizens. 

I tried giving a little pep talk to the other men. I told them that we are the true kings of the Jewish home, that we are the center of the family, and we can’t come specifically because we’re so lofty. I told them that it’s a matter of perspective, that the secular world could never appreciate the true glory and majesty of the Orthodox father standing on the sidewalk outside his daughter’s graduation. 

They shuffled away and someone tried to organize a minyan for Minchah. 

The door opened and we were waved in. Finally. 

I caught a glimpse of my daughter as we entered the hall, but we men were shuttled over to the far left, behind a mechitzah of potted plants. But there were cookies — two paper plates of cookies for us to share. 

The principal presented diplomas and the girls walked up to receive them. I know because I heard the footsteps. 

The men muttered and one suggested that the air-conditioning wasn’t even working on our side and that we didn’t get enough chairs. 

Later, when the graduates walked out in step to the music, I got another glimpse of my daughter through the ferns: It was like those stories of Sean Spicer hiding in the hedges rather than facing the media. 

And I had a message for my daughter, the graduate. You’re joining the ranks of the women of our nation, they who uncomplainingly, good-naturedly, graciously endure being relegated to the back of the room. They accept and embrace their destiny — I couldn’t handle it for an hour, yet for them, it’s a way of life. On Simchas Torah, they watch the dancing through the slats, and on Rosh Hashanah, they hear tekios through the curtain, and on Purim, they tap lightly as their husbands, sons, and brothers make a happy ruckus. They come as baalos simchah to hear their bar mitzvah boy lein the haftarah, his sweet childish voice wafting through the mechitzah. 

They’re made of special stuff. The she’asani kirtzono is real — there is something of the Divine in that role. Take your place among them with pride. 

And please, move away and let me back in front again.

Your Time

It’s simchah season, so I’ll just put this out there. The secular magazines regularly feature their own Most Influential lists, titans of industry or sports or politics, figures with the ability to make or break careers. 

I want to suggest my own Most Influential guy in the frum community. 

It’s the ubiquitous chassan’s brother who calls out kibbudim under the chuppah. 

Nervous, determined, standing a bit too close to the mike, he holds a crumpled piece of paper in his hands and, for about seven minutes, he’s the mamlich melachim, the power behind any number of thrones. 

Inevitably though, he’ll mess up. Either he’ll mispronounce the rosh yeshivah’s name — the most common mistake — or he’ll get lost in the specific title he was given to announce. Maybe he was cautioned to say, “rosh hayeshivah” or just “ram” (and if you think these things aren’t important, you’re out of yeshivah too long) and he got confused. Sometimes he simply blows it on the last name, which can really ruin a man’s night. Not to mention his wife’s. 

He gets to decide who’s a “gaon,” who’s a “gaon hagadol” and who’s just a plain old “harav.” Is the rav of the shul just a rav or is he the more impressive sounding “mara d’asra?” 

The Yiddish thing is a curveball too. 

And all this is left to a teenage boy who spent two hours deciding which tie to wear. 

So here’s my proposal, Mr. Chassan’s Brother. I know you’re only 17 and that you’re not used to this kind of attention, but you are very, very powerful. 

You have the power to bestow true respect on people and you can just as easily humiliate them with a mispronunciation or slip-up. 

Remember how you practiced for your bar mitzvah pshetel? Do it. Practice. Make sure the paper is clear, not scribbled on the back of a place card and not so sweaty that the ink runs. Don’t wing it. Decide if you’re going with the can’t-miss “nexte brachah” or with the “tzveyte brachah, dritte brachah,” etc. 

Tonight, for those seven minutes, as your brother shuckels and your new sister-in-law wonders what number circle she’s at (by lamenatzei’ach, before tekias shofar, you can at least use your fingers to keep count. By a chuppah it isn’t as simple), you are the man, more influential than you’ve ever been. 

Maybe one day you too will be a big rosh yeshivah or the elter-fetter fuhn di kallah and you’ll want to be properly acknowledged. 

So for your own sake, practice now and get it right. 

Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 666

Reminded me of this post



By Rabbi Emanuel Feldman 

What a pity that the classic writers of the past never made it to the 21st century. Shakespeare, John Milton, Dostoevsky, Kafka, Agnon, and dozens of other literary icons could have preserved their creative juices if they had had at their disposal that which we have today: emoji, which is a Japanese term for a picture character, or pictograph. Those ubiquitous yellow Smiley Faces are emoji, or emoticons. 

Once upon a time, those Smiley Faces monopolized the emoticon world. But people who never smiled felt left out, so to the emoticon inventory was added a bright yellow Angry Face. But what about those who needed to express neither smiles nor anger, but other sentiments? In response to the overwhelming demand, the emoji faces multiplied like rabbits. There is today no limit to the available emojis: Tears of Joy Faces, Flushed Faces, Embarrassed Faces, Pensive Faces, Thinking Faces, Confused Faces, Worried Faces, Weary Faces, Excited Faces — whatever you wish to convey, one click of a key will express it for you. Six billion are sent each day. There is even an “Emojipedia” to help you match the proper pictograph to your special mood. 

When those old masters wished to express the angst, confusion, joy, rage, disappointment, anxiety, cruelty, banality, amusement, hope, or ecstasy of their literary characters, they could have used emoticons. “To be or not to be,” for example, is a wasted six-word phrase. It could have been expressed by one or two little emoticon faces that express doubt and confusion. Any of the memorable lines of history could have been reduced to a single keystroke: “Of the people, by the people, for the people” (Confidence Face with Hopeful Face); “We have nothing to fear but fear itself” (Determined Face); “Youth is wasted on the young” (Baby Face and Smiley Face). And if not literarily inclined, one can say things like “Don’t cry over spilled milk” by punching in a Teary Face holding a milk container. 

Just think of the tons of ink and forests of paper that might have been saved had emoticons been available. What a gift to the tree huggers, the environmentalists, and the save-the-planet fanatics! 

Mankind used to chisel documents in stone. That evolved into the laborious use of quill and ink, which was transformed into the modern fountain pen, which became the inkless ballpoint pen, which shifted into the manual and then the electric typewriter, and then to the word processor, which gave way to the even swifter e-mail, which morphed into text messages, which were too cumbersome and were transmogrified into tweets and emoticons. 

In one way, emoji-emoticons are eloquent manifestations of contemporary times. We are in a hurry; speed is of the essence. We cannot waste time searching for the precise word, the elegant phrase, the thoughtful idea, the bon mot. The president of the USA has no time for laborious news conferences so he tweets policy pronouncements — which permits only 140 characters. Can presidential pronouncements consisting only of emojis be far behind? Just think: If Abe Lincoln had had emoticons, he could have saved himself the trip to Gettysburg. And Winston Churchill could have stayed in bed; with three immortal key strokes he could have said “blood, sweat, and tears.” 

Once upon a time, when we had to dip our quills into ink, and touch the pen to paper, and think before writing the next word, what emerged was classic epistolary literature and lasting poetry and drama and the Declaration of Independence, the Magna Carta, the Gettysburg Address — things we still read today. What fruits of our creativity will our grandchildren read? Yellow emoji? When the King, in Megillas Esther 6:1, could not sleep at night, he read the history of the kingdom. Today, when the leader of the free world cannot sleep, he tweets. 

With all the shortcuts at our disposal, we still have no time to study or learn or daven, or simply to sit still and consider the grass or the trees or the sky — or, heaven forfend, G-d. There comes to mind that magnificent prayer recited when we complete a Talmud tractate: “Anu ratzim v’hem ratzim — We run and others run.” We run toward eternal life, and they run to oblivion — like the proverbial lemmings over the cliff. 

When G-d created man, He breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, which Onkelos translates as the power of speech, which differentiated man from the beast (Bereishis 2:7). But if man loses the power of speech, another verse enters the stage: “…the pre-eminence of man over beast is nought…” (Koheles 3:19). 

G-d willing, and the editor permitting, shall I some day write this entire column in emoji, saving us all some valuable time? (Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 666)

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

More People Learning

From the 5 Towns Jewish Times 

Two prominent rabbanim, Rav Yitzchok Zalman Gips, shlita, Rav of Beis Medrash Birchas Avrohom of Boro Park and Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshiva Nahardaah, and Rav Shlomo Cynamon, shlita, Rav of Kehal Bnei Torah and Rosh Kollel Dirshu of Flatbush, commented on the recent leap in in-depth limud haTorah with accountability as well as in limud halacha.

“Yes, over the past few years, there has been a tremendous increase in limud haTorah in our communities,” Rav Gips comments, “but we have always been the Am haTorah. It is insufficient to dress like a Yid or to eat Jewish foods. Without limud haTorah, a person cannot be a Yid! The Yidden and Torah are one.”

He continues: “Historically, after a war, the survivors were so focused on rebuilding Yiddishkeit and their own personal lives that they often worked three jobs just to make ends meet. Unfortunately, many of them were left with little time for learning. Today, baruch Hashem we have more discretionary time—Yidden have Friday, Shabbos, Sunday, and other times during the week to learn.

“Additionally, virtually all of today’s ba’alei batim are yeshiva graduates with solid backgrounds in learning, while nearly everyone has children or grandchildren learning full-time in kollel. They are so surrounded by Torah, they are supporting Torah, and they are now saying, ‘Why shouldn’t I learn Torah as well?’ They therefore join learning programs and become talmidei chachamim in their own right.”

Rav Gips points out that another factor is the tremendous increase in kavod haTorah that we see in our times. When we see the large siyumim such as the Daf Yomi siyum and the Dirshu siyumim, it increases the chashivus of Torah. In our time, we see that lomdei Torah are gaining a tremendous amount of credit and recognition, both from men and from women, for their Torah accomplishments. This spurs them to reach even greater milestones in learning.

Rav Shlomo Cynamon points out, “In our generation we have an erudite, yeshiva-educated public. Even those who are not zocheh to spend their days ensconced in the koslei beis ha’midrash understand the concept of limud haTorah. As time goes on, mature individuals do not suffice with perfunctory sedorim just to ‘be yotzei.’ They want to maximize their time spent learning and have found new ways to learn with lomdus and accountability. This is contributing to the Torah revolution of sorts that we are witnessing.”

Rav Cynamon clarifies with something that he observes every day: “I am zocheh to lead the Dirshu Kollel in Flatbush. We get together every morning and learn from 6:30 until 7:30. We learn with a schedule and offer tests. For many of the lomdim, however, that one hour of learning just whets their appetite for more. They recognized how broad Torah is, how vast and how geshmak, and they wanted more. A large group therefore asked me to create another seder after davening that evolved into a two-hour seder from 8:30 until 10:30 a.m., where we learn the same limud as before davening but with more depth and greater breadth.

“I can’t tell you what this learning has done for them. They have experienced the essence of geshmak in learning. When one has a maggid shiur who is able to give over the tzurah of the sugya, there is no end to how far one can go! My experience is that we are living in a generation with an unprecedented cheshek for learning. They don’t necessarily just want to attend a shiur. They want to learn in a chaburah, they want to toil in learning, they want the give-and-take of in-depth learning that transforms the seder from an obligation into the highlight of their day.”

Rav Gips adds, “Another very significant factor, at least in the Chassidic community, is the fact that virtually every kehillah now has their own Gemara learning program, wherein the entire kehillah picks a masechta and learns it with a schedule, offering tests and a stipend for excellent results. In this case, Dirshu blazed the trail and all of the varied communities saw it as the ultimate successful model to emulate.”

Another pivotal development highlighted by the rabbanim is the marked increase in learning halacha and practical halachic knowledge. Rav Gips comments, “We currently live in a society where people want to know, ‘What is the bottom line?’ People are ehrlich; they take their mitzvah observance seriously and have therefore become focused on learning halacha and knowing halacha.”

Another fascinating insight by Rav Gips is that this phenomenon may also have come about in part because many of the gedolei ha’dor of the previous generation were world-renowned poskim and ba’alei halacha. The gedolei ha’dor have a hashpa’ah on the whole generation, and the fact that the great geonim Rav Yosef Sholom Elyashiv, zt’l, Rav Shmuel Wosner, zt’l, and Rav Ovadiah Yosef, zt’l, were all great poskim may have had a hashpa’ah.

Rav Shlomo Cynamon explains: “Dikduk in halacha is not born in a vacuum. The fact that the entire generation has become more connected to bnei Torah, to learning Torah with iyun, creates a keener perspective when it comes to halacha and yiras Shamayim as well. Today, people don’t want to learn halacha by rote. They want to understand its depth. It is amazing to see how the members of the shiur respond to an introduction to a difficult se’if presented by the Mishnah Berurah. When the Mishnah Berurah brilliantly explains the reason behind the halacha, the halacha comes alive!”

Rav Cynamon concludes his remarks with a telling anecdote that perhaps encompasses the depth of the Torah-and-halacha revolution that we have witnessed over the past two decades. He related: “Rav Yisroel Salanter once overheard a person quickly reviewing one Tosafos after another. The person was saying, ‘V’im tomar’ and then immediately, ‘v’yesh lomar,’ indicating that he was quickly reviewing the questions and answers posed by Tosafos. Rav Yisroel commented, ‘If you don’t stop to think between the “im tomar” and the “yesh lomar,” where will you get your yiras Shamayim?’ What Rav Yisroel was saying is that yes, you may be able to rattle off a question and perfunctory answer, but if you don’t stop to think, how will you realize the importance of what you are learning? How will you truly respect what you are learning and thereby gain the requisite yiras Shamayim?”

Our generation is one that is stopping between the “im tomar” and the “yesh lomar”!

Lessons Learned From A Lonely Shabbos

A story about R' Yaakov Yosef Herman ["All For The Boss"].

Rav Ovadiah's Letter To Shwekey


The biggest Marbitz Torah of modern times. 

A Startling Revelation About My Childhood Hobby - The Power Of The Eye

When I was a child I was a voracious reader. I read all sorts of books and particularly enjoyed novels. One of my favorite writers was Robert Ludlum. [I think I read every book he wrote]. His books captivated me. He had a gift for describing situations and people and bringing them to life. He would often describe the character's eyes. The eyes expressed, fear or hatred or longing or a whole kaleidoscope of emotions. 

The eyes are the window to the soul. I often look into people's eyes and can see so much. The pupil in Hebrew is called אישון. That means "small man". [The ון at the end makes it small. A small book, for example, is called a ספרון]. You can see the entire person in the eye. I have been to people who could look into my eye and tell me what is going on in my entire body. The soul can also be perceived through the eyes. 

Looks can "kill". Looks can convey tremendous love and care. If you are not looking in someone's direction but he is staring at you - YOU CAN FEEL IT. [Then you look at him and he quickly looks away]. 

The idea of Ayin Hara is real. The eye can really do a whole lot of damage [and good with an ayin tovah]. 

He is an article about the "evolutionary" development of the eye.

Unlike animals, we communicate all kinds of information with our eyes. One subtle glance might express doubt and another joy, all without a word. How did we get this way?

Evolutionary psychologists take Charles Darwin’s answer seriously. Supposedly, artful eye expressions evolved from primates that had no eye expressions. When psychologists from Cornell and the University of Colorado in Boulder presented their research results about eye expressions, they dragged up some evolutionary baggage. The journal Psychological Science carried their 2017 report.1

The researchers asked study participants to match 50 words, each describing a mental state like curious or bored to one of six eye-based expressions: sadness, disgust, anger, joy, fear, or surprise. Different participants matched the mental states to similar expressions, showing they can discern those six basic emotions from the look of the eyes alone—even when the rest of the face didn’t match the eyes’ expressions.

Next, they tested the hypothesis that our own eye expressions affect how we perceive others’ eye expressions. For example, wide eyes enhance viewer sensitivity, whereas narrowing our eyes helps us discriminate particulars. Participants often categorized mental states related to sensitivity with wide-eyed expressions, and they associated mental states involving discrimination with narrow eyes. So far, so good.

But then the researchers began crafting stories about how eye expressions began. The Cornell University Press Release said, “We interpret a person’s emotions by analyzing the expression in their eyes—a process that began as a universal reaction to environmental stimuli and evolved to communicate our deepest emotions.”2

So, some supposed evolutionary ancestor began to perceive another’s emotional state first by observing their wide or narrow eyes, then by associating those eye widths with how they themselves felt when their own eyes were narrow or wide. Then other, more-complicated, emotional links supposedly emerged.

But this speculation imports some unmentioned problems. First, humans discern eye width and narrowness by noticing the amount of the whites in the eyes, called sclera. But apes have no visible sclera! How could any supposed ape-like ancestor notice or mimic a feature that didn’t exist?3

Second, this evolutionary story leapfrogs the mechanical and informational requirements for discerning any emotion from eye expressions. One must first be able to precisely alter the shape of one’s eye, and that means new muscles. Humans have about 50 separately controlled facial muscles. We routinely use many of them to express emotions. Gorillas, like other apes, have fewer than 30 muscles in their faces.4

And even if some supposed ancestor had an extra set of eye muscles, it would do them no good without the nerves to properly connect those muscles to the informational signals that specify when, how far, and how long to stimulate each muscle.

The last problem with this evolutionary scenario may be the most obvious for those with eyes to see it. Scientists have not seen evolution make a new muscle and nerve kit. Nor have they seen evolution make the new information needed to stimulate that muscle at just the right time to convey new emotions, let alone the acute mental programming that notices and interprets those emotional eye signals in others.

Psychologists who believe that eye expressions evolved from an ape-like ancestor face difficult problems. They need to show how natural processes could craft an all-or-nothing eye expression system. No aspect of this system would work without visible sclera, muscles, nerves, and the intricate mental capacities needed to manage them and interpret emotions in others’ eyes. We have all these integrated features in place as though someone put them all there.

1. Lee, D. H. and A. K. Anderson. 2017. Reading What the Mind Thinks From How the Eye Sees. Psychological Science. 28 (4): 494-503.
2. Osgood, M. Eye expressions offer a glimpse into the evolution of emotion. Cornell University Press Release. Posted on April 17, 2017, accessed April 18, 2017.
3.And why would that supposed ancestor evolve visible sclera unless and until it knew in advance that eye whites would open a new dimension to interpersonal communication, all while evolution supposedly proceeds blindly?
4. See references in Burgess, S. 2014. Overdesign in the human being with a case study of facial expressions. Journal of Creation. 28 (1): 98-103.

People Aren't Equal

Continuing the thought that I started here.

Korach complained about lack of equality. כל העדה כולם קדושים - "We are ALL holy [so why the nepotism]" he roared. Moshe answered as follows [as explained here]: If you REALLY believe in equality then how come it doesn't bother you that as Levi you have special privileges??!! You only cry foul when you feel slighted but not when you have the upper hand. It must be that you aren't sincere. 

All of these militant, outspoken feminists [who thanks to social media have vast avenues to voice their dissatisfaction] never complain about the Kesubah - which seems VERY one sided. It says that when a man marries a woman he must support her, take care of her, fulfill her needs, honor her etc. etc. until his dying day and beyond. 

What does she have to do in return??


Really nothing. 

Just accept a nice piece of jewellery. 

Why is that fair??? 

And if it's not, then how come they don't try to make the Kesubah an equal contract: The woman obligates herself to pay 50 percent of the bills. She will never criticize her husband [!!!]. She will honor him. She will have relations whenever he feels like it and how he likes it etc. etc. 

THAT would be fair.

But no. Nothing. The man signs his life away to take care of this woman and she doesn't obligate herself to do anything in return. 

This is not the only area where the man is "discriminated" against [or so it seems] but a major one. 

What is the explanation? The answer is THAT MAN AND WOMAN WERE NOT CREATED EQUAL OR THE SAME. So we have different obligations and different rights. We let Hashem and the Chachomim decide but it is not our job [based on our post-modern mindset that changes every 3 years or less] to decide who gets what. This is NOT a power struggle. 

Like Moshe said to Korach - בוקר - In the morning we will find out who is right. Rashi says 

אמר לו משה, גבולות חלק הקב"ה בעולמו יכולים אתם להפוך בוקר לערב , כך תוכלו לבטל את זו.

You can't turn morning into night and you can't turn a Levi into a Kohen or a woman into a man. We are different and have different tasks.  

So is life. For one's mental health it is best to accept reality and not fight it. 


In honor of the Lubavitcher Rebbe's yahrtzeit - this a great story. Told by my fourth grade rebbe. 

Jews Defaming Judaism

Ahhhhhhh - feminist rhetoric!!:-)

Since we live in the Internet age, everyone with a computer can say whatever they want and quite often, get a big audience as well. True or false? Ahhhh - don't let the facts influence your opinions. 

It has often been said that the WORST enemy of the Jewish people are the Jewish people. We cause ourselves a large percentage of our problems. I often see Anti-Semitic things being written but since the writer is Jewish, people don't view it that way. But no - Jews can also hate Jews. Jews can also degrade and defame Judaism, Torah and tradition.

Here is an example from a review of the movie Wonder Woman that was read by thousands and maybe tens of thousands:

In this blurring of where God ends and man begins, I see a parallel in Orthodoxy. Often, where God is flexible, men are not. A person who knows Jewish law will tell you that most of things women are told they cannot do are in fact not forbidden by that law. Yet, women are still told we cannot do them. Where God steps back, men step in and create an even harsher reality.

But alas, Miss Writer neglected to give ONE SINGLE example. Just the blanket accusation that Jewish men look for ways to make difficult the lives of Jewish women. That is mean, unfair and untrue. I know Jewish law and can't think of anything.  

G-d forbade many things [such as watching Wonder Woman - source ולא תתורו אחרי לבבכם ואחרי עיניכם - see Sefer Hachinuch 387 and MANY MANY other sources] and empowered the Chachomim to forbid what they see fit. But when do we tell women not to do things that are permitted [unless it will lead to sin]?? [There are certain communities that have certain very strict guidelines but that is not the mainstream and if a person is not satisfied in one community then they can move to another. Free country].  

Here is another doozer from the same "Rebbetzin":

How moving, how norm-shattering to see women make their own choices, fight their own battles, on their own terms, no permission needed, no dress code required, and no one telling them just how far they could go.

"NO DRESS CODE REQUIRED". HOW HOLY!!!:-):-) Wear or don't wear whatever you want! No rules. Every person decides for themselves what they want. Is this how the author raises her children? She doesn't tell them what to do? She lets them decide to do whatever they feel like?? I am sure she doesn't. Adults need rules too. The Torah is a book FILLED with rules. EVERY SOCIETY HAS RULES. 

"Fight their own battles". For the militant feminist movement - life is a battle. [In her words: "We fight. But we fight as women. Just as tough but with soul and depth].  NEWS FLASH: NOBODY WANTS TO BATTLE YOU. THE JEWISH PEOPLE ARE ON THE WHOLE VERY KIND PEOPLE. GO TO ANY HOSPITAL AND SEE HOW MUCH KINDNESS THERE IS. SEE HOW MUCH TZEDAKA PEOPLE GIVE. NOBODY WANTS TO BATTLE YOU. 

So to all the ladies out their with a chip on their shoulder. Let it go. Hashem loves you. The Jewish people love you. Heck, you ARE the Jewish people. Without you there would be no Jews. This is not a battle. 

Incidentally - this is REALLY BAD for Shalom Bayis. It must be hard to live with a woman who thinks that she must fight to get her rights. [I have observed the dynamics of marriages where men are married to angry feminists and it doesn't seem pleasant for them]. 

And as for your leisure activities - there are really more productive and holier things to do with ones time than immerse oneself in modern pop culture that pollutes both mind and soul. 

Chukas - Cleaning Up

By Rabbi Joshua (ritually known as The Hoffer) Hoffman

Parshas Chukas presents us with the laws of the parah adumah, or red heifer, whose ashes are used to ritually purify a person who has become defiled through contact with a human corpse. Although, ultimately, the reason behind this series of laws is a mystery, as the rabbis tell us, some limited explanations have been offered. Rashi, citing Rav Moshe HaDarshan, says that the process is analogous to the child of a maidservant that dirtied the palace. Its mother is summoned to clean up the sullying. So, too, a mess was caused with the sin of the golden calf, and the parah adumah, the red heifer, came to clean it up.

Rashi's explanation is a bit problematic in light of his comments in Parshas Beshalach. There he says, in connection with the verse which says that, at Marah, the people received 'chok and mishpat,' or a statute and a law, that they were given the laws of parah adumah, which, presumably, corresponds to the 'statute' given there. Although there is another reading of Rashi, according to which it was the laws of honoring one's parents that were given at Marah, the usual reading seems more in line with the correspondence in the usual reading, identifying the law as a statute, a law not readily understood, which is more fitting for parah adumah than for honoring one's parents. If this is indeed so, how can Rashi say that parah adumah comes to atone for the eigel, seeing that the laws were given before the eigel was worshipped?

Perhaps we can suggest an answer based on the comments of Rav Yosef Salant in his Be'er Yosef, and Rav Eliyahu Lopian in his Lev Eliyahu. They say that while Rashi's comments at the beginning of the parsha, that the term chukas haTorah - 'statute of the Torah' - in the context of the parah adumah, refers to those laws, which the nations of the world criticize the Jews for, because they seem to make no sense, it can also be explained as referring the manner in which God runs the universe, which, to the human being seems to make no sense. Only God, in His infinite wisdom, knows what He does. Just as it is necessary to accept all the laws of the Torah as coming from God's infinite wisdom, even when we don't understand them, so, too, must we accept His running of the universe as coming from His infinite wisdom, even when we don't understand it.

Following this explanation of the term ' chukas haTorah,' we can reconcile the two Rashis in regard to parah adumah. While it is true that the nation worshipped the eigel only after the laws of parah adumah were given at Marah, the underlying cause of that worship existed already, before Marah. People turn to idolatry when they feel that life's challenges are beyond their control, and that by turning to an idol, which is really only a projection of the human himself (see Henri Frankfort's work, Before Philosophy), he can control of his own life. The laws of parah adumah teach us that it is God who is in control, even when we don't understand His ways, and we must submit to His decisions. This notion had to be inculcated in the people, and, as the Ramban explains, in Parshas Beshalach, the laws given at Marah were meant for the nation to study and become familiar with while they were on their journey from Egypt. The message taught by the laws of the parah adumah, which seem to be self-contradictory, in that the ashes of the parah simultaneously purify some people and defile others, serve as an example of chukas haTorah, and just as we must submit to all of God's laws, so, too, must we submit to the manner in which He conducts the universe.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Chukas - It Just Keeps Rolling Along

By Rabbi Joshua (streamingly known as The Hoffer) Hoffman [z"l]

In memory of my maternal grandmother, Shaindel Leah bas Shmuel Mordechai Shapiro, whose fortieth yahrtzheit occurs on the twenty-ninth of Sivan. She was the matriarch of our family, linking us to the past and guiding us toward the future. May her memory be a blessing

The Torah tells us that after Miriam died, there was no water for the assembly (Bamidbar 20:2). Rashi, citing the Talmud (Ta’anis 9a) says that we learn from here that the nation received its water during the forty years in the wilderness through the well that came in the merit of Miriam. The Talmud also tells us that the manna came in the merit of Moshe, and the divine clouds of glory came in the merit of Aharon. Why was it specifically water that Miriam contributed to the nation? Rav Moshe Sternbuch, in his Ta’am Vo'Da’as, explains that water is something for which there is a constant need, and without which life could not continue. Similarly, in the Jewish home, the presence and influence of the woman is all-pervasive. She is the “akeres habays,” the mainstay of the household, constantly caring for the children and seeing to the needs of the house, making sure that they conform to the requirements of a traditional Jewish home. In this way, her function is similar to that of water, and that is why it was water that was chosen to be the gift that Miriam brought to the people. Perhaps we can suggest an additional reason for water being the medium through which Miriam bestowed a blessing upon the Jewish people, based upon some comments made by Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik zt”l, in his eulogy for the Talner Rebbetzin, Rivka Twerski (see Tradition, Spring, 1978).

Rav Soloveitchik zt”l, said that there are two mesorah communities in Judaism, two traditions, that of the fathers and that of the mothers. The fathers transmit the content of Torah, how to comply with the halacha, for example, how to keep the laws of Shabbos. The mothers teach us how to experience Shabbos and all of the other aspects of Jewish life. This, said Rav Soloveitchik, is what he learned from his mother. Most importantly, he said, she taught him to feel the presence of the Almighty. Without her, he said, he would have grown up to be a soulless being, dry and insensitive. 

Based on Rav Soloveitchik’s remarks we can understand the symbolism behind Miriam’s contribution of the well of water to the people. A well combines the elements of a spring, which begins at a source and flows naturally, perennially, while a well has the added feature of human intervention. In fact, there is a discussion among halachic authorities as to the status of a well in regard to the laws of Mikvah, due to their different features (see Meshech Chochmah to Parshas Chayei Sarah). The well, via the element of human intervention, connects to the source and leads into the present and beyond. So, too, Miriam, as one of the great women in Jewish history, linked the generations, reminding the people of their origins, and showing them how to carry it into the future.