Emunah Based on the Teachings of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov

Archive for February, 2010

Various Laws Pertaining to Rosh Chodesh

By HaRav Shimon Anshin shlit”a

A. Does one mention “Yaaleh V’Yavoh” at the 3rd Meal?

In the case where Motzei Shabbos falls out on Rosh Chodesh, one who makes Birkas Hamazon at night (Tzeis Hakochavim), raises the question as to whether or not to say “Retzei” as one does on Shabbos itself, or “Yaaleh V’Yavoh” as we will clarify below according to the Poskim (Shulchan Aruch – 188).

  • If one finishes the Seuda before sunset even if he only benches Birkas Hamazon at night (Tzeis Hakochavim), he only mentions “Retzei”.
  • If one finishes the Seuda bein Hasmashos (between sunset and Tzeis Hakochavim), there are those who say that the law goes according to one who finishes the Seuda before sunset according to point A. above and therefore one would only mention “Retzei”.
  • If one continued to eat bread after Tzeis Hakochavim, there is a difference of opinion among the Poskim as what to say:

1. There are those that say only to mention Yaaleh V’Yavoh in as much as that if one said “Retzei” it would be as if one “contradicted” the other.  Since, on the one hand one is still considering the time to be Shabbos yet on the other hand by saying “Yaaleh V’Yavoh”, one is considering it to be Rosh Chodesh (in which case it would no longer be Shabbos!) – (Magen Avraham and many of the Achronim).

2. There are those that say to mention both “Retzei” and “Yaaleh V’Yavoh” and hold that mentioning the two insertions do not contradict one another – (Taz and Baal HaTanya)

3. There are those that say only to mention “Retzei” (Bach, Aruch Hashulchan and the Ben Ish Chai)

In practice:

Based on the differing opinions above then, it would be best not to continue eating bread after sunset in order not to enter into any doubt and therefore avoid having to deal with the 3 differences of opinion above.

  • If one did in fact continue to eat bread between sunset and Tzeis Hakochavim, it would seem preferable to say “Retzei” only.
  • If however, one continued to eat bread after Tzeis Hakochavim, whether one said just “Yaaleh V’Yavoh” or “Retzei” and “Yaaleh V’Yavo” there are those on whom to rely.  But if one said only “Retzei” (albeit not preferable), the Poskim do not “object.”
  • If however, one prayed Maariv before Birkas Hamazon, one only mentions “Yaaleh V’Yavoh”.
  • If one did not eat bread after sunset or Tzeis Hakochavim, but only ate other items (or a kazayis of bread in more that the allotted amount of time for eating the kazayis (“achilat pras”), one only mentions “Retzei”.

B.  The prohibition of Women to perform Melachos on Rosh Chodesh.

Women are prohibited to perform Melachos on Rosh Chodesh, however within these prohibitions, there are a different Minhagim:

a) Those that do not perform any Melacha at all.

b) Those that do not sew, knit and wash clothes other that for specific needs on the day.

c) Those that do not sew and knit but wash clothes per usual (especially since today we have washing machines and therefore many are lenient in this way).  The same also applies to ironing and the way it is done today.

However with regards to baking and cooking, there is no minhag to be stringent and refrain.

In practice:

If there is a known minhag in the community, one should do according to the Minhag of the place (minhag hamakom).  If however, there is no established minhag in the community, one should go according to the minhag of her mother.  But if one has neither minhag, a woman should ask her Rav.

Women working for a living:

If a woman is an employee and it would be difficult to stop working on Rosh Chodesh, she should work as per usual.  Even if she is an independent contractor, according to the Aruch Hashulchan, she is permitted to work as per usual.

The Night of Rosh Chodesh:

The prohibition of melacha on the night of Rosh Chodesh itself also depends on the minhag of the community.

Two-day Rosh Chodesh:

If Rosh Chodesh is two days, there are those that are stringent not to perform melacha on both days but others are stringent only on the 2nd day and not on the 1st.

All of the above points apply ONLY to married woman, but with regards to unmarried women, there are those that say there is no prohibition against Melacha at all, but those that are stringent however, find blessing.

C.  Seudas Rosh Chodesh:

  • There is a specific mitzvah to eat plenty at the Seudas Rosh Chodesh day and one who spends money and eats and drinks in its honor is praiseworthy as the Talmud states: “all the nourishment of a person is determined on Rosh Hashanah except for Shabbos, Yom Tov and Rosh Chodesh and if one adds for this purpose, they enable him from Above” – Shulchan Aruch Siman 419.

(Many people are not careful with this law, not even aware that this is specific law outlined in the Shulchan Aruch and they therefore worry about spending money on this Seuda not realizing that they are not loosing anything as it is not part of their livelihood allotted on Rosh Hashanah.)

  • It is preferable to eat bread on Rosh Chodesh day for the Seudas Rosh Chodesh.
  • If Rosh Chodesh falls on Shabbos, one should add additional food specifically in honor of Rosh Chodesh.

TRANSLATOR’S NOTE:

As this is a translation of the original Hebrew, if you are unclear on any of the Laws outlined herein in any way whatsoever, please consult with a Posek.

“The Living Torah”

Sruly was a true free spirit; he could not bear the thought of being confined to any system or bound to any responsibility. The majority of his time he spent inside his imagination, it was there that he amassed his wealth, made a great living and lacked nothing. The big problem was that he also had a family, which was something that actually existed in reality. Caring people tried to help out somewhat, the daring amongst them even tried to arrange some work for Sruly, but whatever they managed to find him, at best would only last a few days.

Sruly was neither foolish nor ignorant of his issue; he did have a great desire to stabilize his untamable spirit. He was not free of the worries of parnassah and the worry of falling into debt did not evade him either, but what could he do, there was nothing that he despised more and nothing more frightening to him than accepting upon himself the burden of any yolk.  The business managers that he had met with throughout the years found him to be bright, sharp and of good character, yet somehow when it came down to the practical things like being on time and keeping a schedule, Sruly was nowhere to be found.

The suggestion that came his way one morning after Shacharis, was utterly surprising. The esteemed businessman and manager of The National Bank offered Sruly to try out the position of being his personal assistant. “You won’t have too much work” he said, “and there are no real fixed working hours. You’ll only have to worry about a few small things and other than that you’re free” he added. “Wow, such a position I never even dreamed of”, thought Sruly as he rubbed his hands together in excitement – “a prestigious position, a great salary… and to be free!”

The following days were like a dream come true. Sruly danced his way to the bank and fulfilled his job with joy and satisfaction, and when the bank manager suggested at the end of the month that he take the position indefinitely, Sruly was overjoyed.

It was only later that night, when his pride subsided and his clarity returned that suddenly the manager’s words floated to the forefront of his mind: “Don’t forget,” he said with an authoritative glare “from today you are an official staff member, your dress code should match appropriately.” After a short silence he added “and a schedule of course.” That night Sruly hardly slept.

The next morning Sruly sat at his desk staring at the employment contract in his hands. The paper fluttered between his trembling fingers as his beady eyes glared with fear at the many paragraphs. The contract was official and precise, fitting for ‘The National Bank.’ His heart throbbed powerfully, he dropped the piece of paper and buried his head in his hands as a heavy sigh rippled through his body, “Oy, what have I got myself into, my freedom is gone, my life is over!” Just then there was a light knock on the door, Sruly looked up and standing in the doorway was the bank’s secretary with a large pile of documents in his hands…

The following days were heavily laden with activities and only at the end of the week, when he finally had some time to think clearly, he looked back upon the days that had passed and suddenly he felt a feeling of tremendous accomplishment. “Yes, this is exactly what I needed” he said to himself, “until now I thought I was free, but now I have a accomplished something – I can do it, this is true freedom, this is life!” ■

This week we have great expectations. We ended last week’s parsha amidst the awesome standing of the giving of the Torah. Thunderous voices and lightning, a gathering filled with splendor, holiness and purity. And so we surely expect to continue with something no less grand and exalted. This is where we stand to be greatly surprised…

Suddenly the Torah begins to discuss all sorts of details; commandments, mandates and laws regarding monetary matters and damages. Worst of all – ‘The Hebrew slave’ – what connection does all this have to such a lofty and holy event as the giving of the Torah?

Let us picture this a little more vividly. The Jewish people leave Egypt, but not before all the laws of nature are shattered before the eyes of every individual. The sea splits and they pass through it on dry land. Their lives are more spiritual than physical, they tread upon the clouds of glory, perceiving Hashem’s greatness more and more with every moment, their clothes grow together with them and they eat only bread from heaven. Then, at the foot of Har Sinai they are commanded to completely shed the limitations of physicality and to prepare themselves in holiness for three days. A spirit of purity fills the entire surroundings and everything seems to be uplifted.

Finally the great day arrives; only through a miracle do their souls not burst out of the confines of their bodies. The mountain is covered with smoke; thunder and lightning – a level of awe and trepidation completely out of this world.  They see the sounds and smell the scent of Gan Eiden. Their ears hear the voice of The Creator and at the end, when they can no longer withstand the intensity, the last strand that binds their souls to their bodies is broken and the angels begin to sprinkle the Tal (dew) that revives the dead. Then, just as the physical world has been completely left behind, they begin to hear the most extremely foreign concepts: ‘One who strikes his father or mother … One who kidnaps a man and sells him…’ (Shmos 21). What happened! Where did all the holiness go? Who is dreaming about such things? Who would even think of doing such lowly things? The Torah is holy – how do such lowly and physical concepts get in here? Were we not commanded just a few days ago to completely leave physicality behind, to become holy? All of a sudden we are not only being returned to physicality but to the lowliest coarseness…

Yes, we heard correctly, this is the receiving of the Torah. Although the Torah comes from heaven, if Hashem had wanted to leave it up there He would not have needed to shake up the whole world for it. If the Torah was intended for the angels we would have had no need to stand at the foot of Har Sinai. The Torah was written in order to enter into the boundaries of physicality, and until it has penetrated to the lowest place in the world, it has still not been properly accepted.

When the Rebbe explains the opening verse of this week’s parsha (L.M 7), he teaches that the Torah was given in order to bring emunah into every aspect of life. The gallus (exile) of Mitzrayim was itself a lack of emunah, and when one lacks emunah, his life is bound into exile. It is the holy Torah that is able to redeem the soul from its exile and until the Torah has penetrated into every aspect of life, we have not completely received it. This means that the receiving of the Torah IS the acceptance of the light of emunah in every place and in every situation.

This is why specifically at the height of the giving of the Torah it was most appropriate to tell us about ‘the Hebrew slave.’ It is just then, that it was of utmost importance to the Torah that we know that there is such a situation as a Hebrew slave, and that the Torah speaks about that too. Now, one will never be able to say: ‘the Torah is too lofty and spiritual for me.’ Since if the Torah specifies how a Hebrew slave, who has fallen so low that he is permitted to marry a non-Jewish maidservant, must act, then there is surely something here that is relevant to us too.

When we stood ready to receive the Torah we thought that on top of all we have in our lives we will receive another detail, something higher and loftier. We quickly discovered the truth … the Torah envelopes our entire being, resting upon every fine detail of life, even the things we never thought of. The Torah pays attention to every little thing; it is even concerned with how we dress.

That’s it! There is nowhere to run.

But then the great understanding comes, that in truth, I don’t want to run away. How wonderful it is to be connected in every fine detail to the purpose. How fantastic it is to be attached and bound to Hashem, and how great it is to discover that He is interested in me. He is interested in what I think, in what I eat, how I speak and even how I do business. The Torah was given to us in order to make life holy. Our greatest challenge occurs specifically with the smaller things, these are the things to which we generally give no importance. But the Torah asks of us to be holy, and to connect EVERYTHING to the great joy and ultimate purpose.

This week we will also read Parshas Shekalim. It speaks about money. This is because the majority of problems are focused around money; parnassah, debts and business dealings. This area generally seems so complicated; it seems to be better not to get involved at all. Parshas Shekalim comes and teaches: money is a truly wondrous thing when we use it for Tzeddakah – meaning, when we uplift it into holiness. Specifically when we take the lowliest things and uplift them to the glory of Hashem, that is when we create a Parshas Shekalim.

Yes, its difficult, but we are only asked to do what we can. Our half, the “Machtzis hashekel” (half a shekel). This ultimately is what will build “Mishkan L’Hashem”

You can download the entire parasha sheet here

Laws Pertaining to Coveting

Weekly Halacha Series

By HaRav Shimon Anshin shlit”a

The 10th commandment is: “Do not covet” and even though everyone knows this warning, many are not aware of the practical applications of this prohibition.

In practice there are two prohibitions as it relates to this commandment.  One is “Do not desire” (“lo tisaveh” – Parashas Va’etchanan) and the second is “Do not covet” (“Lo Tachmod”) as is seen in this week’s Parasha which warns about the actual deed of coveting vs. that of desiring.

A. “Do Not Desire:”

According to the Rambam, Shulchan Aruch and most of the Poskim, this is the warning against “thoughts of the heart” alone. i.e. everything that is definitively decided in the heart of an individual to pursue another person’s belongings even were it to be in a “permissible” way such as purchasing the item from the individual – this in fact contravenes the prohibition of “Do not desire” and applies even if he had NOT purchased it yet!

However, there are those that say that this applies only if he pursues the belonging with all his effort.  Which would not be the case if his intent is to abandon the pursuit should his friend disagree to sell it to him.

Others hold that only if he actually does something to try and acquire the other’s belonging, would he be contravening this prohibition.

There are a minority of Poskim that hold that even if the person so much as desires the item in his heart and has not premeditatedly planned a way to acquire the belonging, he would be contravening this prohibition.

In all opinions however, it is a worthy trait (midas chassidus) not to desire in any way, even in one’s heart, what belongs to another.

B.  “Do Not Covet”:

This is applicable only when the following two conditions are met:

1) “Begging” and “pushing” another until he sells the item to him.

2) Taking possession of the “begged” item described in 1) above.

Definitions of “Begging”

1) Asking for an item not in a way of “begging”, would not contravene this prohibition.  Therefore, it is permissible to ask an individual if he would be willing to sell him the item he wants, even twice, and this would not considered “begging”.  However three times, would appear to be considered “begging”.  An important person however, knowing that the owner of a particular item would be embarrassed to decline the offer, would not be permitted to ask even once.

2) Therefore, even were one to pay the full price after he “begged” beyond the permissible amount of times described above, according to the Rambam, Shulchan Aruch and most Poskim, he would be contravening the prohibition of “Do not covet”.

3) If the owner agreed to sell the item because the buyer gave him much more than the going rate, his would still be contravening the this prohibition.

4) If after “begging” the owner truly agrees to sell the item (as in “I really want to sell the item”), there are those that say that the buyer has not contravened the prohibition of coveting, however,  there are other Poskim that hold to the contrary.

What items are prohibited to Covet?

1) Coveting a specific item that belongs to another person. However, if he desires to have something similar to another, then he would not be contravening the prohibition. Also, there would be no prohibition should he desire such an item in a non-jealous way but rather in a way that he finds such an item desirable/useful.

2) With regards to coveting an item that is readily available.  There are those that say there is no prohibition of coveting.

3) With regards to coveting possessions belonging to partners such as a shared garden, courtyard or roof, one should ask a Posek (Shaalat Chachom).

4) Coveting a Mitzvah item, such as a Sefer Torah, Mezuzah, Shofar, Lulav etc, contravenes the prohibition of coveting.

5) Coveting Torah knowledge or professional skill sets, such as desiring to learn Torah or a particular trade from another, does not contravene the prohibition and one would even be allowed to “beg” the other person to teach him that knowledge/skill.

6) Chesed – “begging” another to do a Chesed is permissible as the one doing the Chesed is performing a mitzvah.

7) Presents -“begging” another to give a present to him contravenes the prohibition of coveting.

8) Renting – “begging” another to rent him his house, for example, is disagreed upon among the Poskim as to whether this would be contravening the prohibition of coveting or not.  In practice one would need to ask a Posek.

TRANSLATOR’S NOTE:

As this is a translation of the original Hebrew, if you are unclear on any of the Laws outlined herein in any way whatsoever, please consult with a Posek.

The Ways of Encouragement of the Tzaddikim

(Sefer Meshivas Nefesh – elucidated)

There are fallen souls that need to be revived with all types of encouraging words which restore the soul. Words which can revive and restore these fallen souls come about through the sparking of the mind, which is an aspect of Tefillin which is merited to by breaking lustful thoughts.

Meshivas Nefesh 28, based on Likutei Moharan II 5

The Ways of Encouragement of the Tzaddikim

It seems to some people that the guidance and encouragement which the Rebbe teaches are good ideas which can help those who are involved in healing the soul, by providing thought patterns and ways in which a person can be successful, if he will only change the direction of his thoughts to a healthy way of thinking of hope and happiness. It would seem that the success of Hischazkus is through the means of brainwashing oneself with positive ideas and approaches, in order to remove any other thought which throws down morale and weakens the frame of mind.

But in truth, all the ways of Hischazkus which are mentioned in the teachings of Tzaddikim, are a divine flow from the source of Divine Mercy, which are drawn from the roots of the Torah in a wondrous way known only to the Tzaddikim. Therefore, true success in following these paths is dependent on the extent of closeness to them.

The Holiness of Tefillin Produced Specifically from Animal Skin

The refinement of the thought process comes about when a person understands that the same way the holy Tefillin are made out of animal skin, so too a person can achieve holy thoughts expressly through tests of prideful thoughts and lack of refinement in the area of Bris. The main rectification of the mind occurs when one takes his body which has fallen into a situation of “sealed flesh”, a metaphor for having fallen into “fleshiness” and sensuality, and transforms it into a “seal of holiness” –that the mind should spark with holy thoughts, an aspect of the Holiness of Tefillin.

When a person knows this fundamental idea, he doesn’t get confused or fall when he encounters a trial. Instead, he goes and screams out to Hashem from the depths of his heart that He should reveal to him how he can merit Emunah in his situation. Thus, he discovers guidance and paths through which to transform every thought to holy ones of closeness to Hashem.

The ability to enter into this Avodah comes about when one comes close to Tzaddikim which teach the true ways of thinking, of how to transform every trial and every fall into holy thoughts of closeness to Hashem. Every thought which enters the heart has a negative side which we must abhor and distance from ourselves, as well as a holy side. Through cleaving to Tzaddikim, we learn to understand how we can be close to Hashem in every place and situation,

The Sparking of the Mind

When one is involved in serving Hashem in such a fashion, discovering Emunah from within the depths of trials and failures, a person comes to what is referred to as a sparking of the mind.

The mind is like a lit candle, which needs fuel to burn, which is the moisture and oil of the body.  To transform every thought of “sealed flesh” to a holy thought is to elevate the body to become fuel for the mind.

Now, every holy thought about Hashem, and all the knowledge of Hischazkus, to be close to Hashem always, do not remain in the category of just being ideas, but rather they become thoughts of Emunah and closeness to Hashem which have a real life force. His mind is lit up with wondrous sparks from these teachings of the Tzaddikim.

If he merits being diligent in this, he then merits to hold strong in Emunah even at low times, even when the Emunah doesn’t shine properly. The impression left over from the times when the mind sparks continues to shine for him even when his mind “sleeps”. This is an aspect of “a dream through an angel.” Just like by actual sleep, if someone’s mind was clear during the day, then his dreams are pure. So too, when a person works at elevating his mindset throughout his down times, he merits that even when he is in a spiritual “slumber” he will be able to hold strong in Emunah.

Words Which Restore the Soul

When a person toils to remain strong in Emunah, by searching by the Tzaddikim for the true ways of Emunah which have the ability to transform “animal skin” to holy thoughts, he comes up with words of encouragement which have the ability to restore a soul. He can then provide encouragement for friends who have fallen, to uplift them with his words. He can properly convey those words in a way than his friend will be able be uplifted by them and use them to go further and to progress from one level to another in serving Hashem.

A person is successful in having what he has learnt come alive with the ability to enter his friend’s heart when he himself actualizes it in a fashion in which he elevates fallen thoughts into holy thoughts.

Even the person who is hearing the words of encouragement should know this, and understand that even though he himself is right now on a level of “sealed flesh”, he must still take these words of the Tzaddikim which he is hearing and to enter with them into the seal of holiness, however much he can. With this he can rectify his mind and he will become able to withstand difficult situations with his Emunah in Hashem.

[This piece is based on Likutei Moharan II, 5, which is the longest discourse on Likutei Moharan, and the thread which connects the whole lesson is difficult to understand. What we have explained over here can be used as a short introduction to help understand the general idea of the lesson.]

When Yisro Arrived

The splendid carriage made its way with difficulty through the narrow alleyways. When it finally stopped in the centre of the small and neglected town square, the meticulously dressed driver hopped out, looked to and fro and began signaling to the passersby’s in an attempt to convey some message. They looked at him with surprise, shrugged their shoulders and continued on their way. When he could find no-one who spoke his language, he gave up, saddled his horse and went off in the direction from where he had come, leaving the carriage behind him …

The dawn of the following day found the carriage still in its place. The early-rising workers passed by it, raised an eyebrow in confusion and continued to their daily work. Like all new things, soon, the carriage too was no longer taken notice of and only the elders from the old-age home on the other side of the square found any interest in it. For many days they debated its meaning and in the end they came to the unified conclusion that the king himself had sent it – a glorious statue.

Since they had decided that it was a royal carriage they treated it with respect. Whenever the children sought to find an outlet for their boredom amongst its wheels, the elders would waive their canes at them and chase them away with serious rebuke.

One morning a well-off merchant arrived at the gates of the city. The marvelous carriage which stood in the town square caught his eye. He looked with surprise at the royal golden emblem that graced its front, bringing certainty to his suspicion, “a royal carriage, there is no doubt. But what is it doing here in the middle of some forgotten city?” he wondered. When he could find no satisfactory answer from the elders he turned to the town secretary.

“Ahh, I heard something about this strange phenomenon, yes, perhaps when I have some free time I will find a chance to get rid of the piece of junk”, answered the uninterested old secretary as he yawned with sleepiness.

“Wait a second, where did your honor say he was from … from the royal city?” The old man’s eyes suddenly lit up, “perhaps you could do me a favor?” He rummaged through the desk’s drawers and withdrew a scroll as he explained: “an unfortunate mistake … I told the young man who brought it here that it was a mistake but he was quite stubborn and now I’ve been left with this lost article”.

“What is the mistake?” replied the merchant in confusion.

“It is presumably a letter of greetings from the king to the head of a neighboring city” explained the old man.

“Who said it’s a mistake?” persisted the merchant.

“Perhaps you can tell me, can’t you see the royal seal! For whom do you think the king sent this letter? For me???” roared the old man.

“And why not?” asked the merchant again.

“You’re just making fun of an old man” replied the secretary with an expression of insult on his face.

“Let’s see” retorted the merchant as he ripped the seal off the scroll. “See, it IS for you” he declared as he held out the scroll in front of the secretary’s wide open eyes, “it seems that it is even written in your own language.”

The old man’s eyes quickly moved through the hand written lines, as he mumbled in amazement: “The king knows my name! My first name!” He held the scroll with trembling hands, “…the scroll is written to me … hand written by the king … he knows my name…”

In the following lines the king concisely conveyed his message: the development of the kingdom had until now been focused entirely on the royal city and its suburbs. The cities on the outskirts of the kingdom had begun to deteriorate and there was a concern that these areas would become completely detached from the rest of the kingdom. Therefore the yearly budget was going to be dedicated to a new project: ‘The Unification of the Kingdom’. The letter continued: “Since your city is that of the greatest geographical distance it has been decided to dedicate one half of the funds for the project to its development.  At the final stage of the project, it is to become the sister city to the royal city. In the coming months the first of the funds will be delivered, after which the architectural and construction phases will commence, at which stage the funds will be increased as required.” ■

There is no need to penetrate the depths of the parsha to be struck by the difficulty that is apparent from its very opening verse. “Parshas Yisro” – what type of a name is this? Is there any lack of important events in this week’s portion that the Torah could find no other title with which to crown such an important parsha as this. Is there no more fitting introduction to the most important event in the history of the world – the giving of the Torah?

The story of Yisro truly is the introduction for the receiving of the Torah.

We all know that the Torah must be received each day anew. We also know that the Torah is something good. We have heard of, and perhaps have even seen people, who have merited to this. Presumably they look a little different, enriched and happy; it seems as if they have tasted something tangible in the fulfillment of the Mitzvos, they have attained clear Emunah and they find satisfaction and contentment in Kedusha.

The Torah is a very unique and special gift. Presumably it is not for naught that Hashem commanded us to wait for it such a long time.

Fifty days an entire nation waits, counting the days like a child anxiously waiting for a precious gift.

Any sensitive person who reads the Torah understands that something great happened at Mattan Torah. The Jewish people did not only receive an important gift, but the very essence and stature of the Jewish nation was then completely transformed …

Every Jew desires in his heart that he too should approach holiness and receive the Torah. In other words, every Jew yearns for a more real and true connection with Hashem – perhaps he yearns to understand more clearly what the Torah asks of us, perhaps he is searching for more satisfaction and contentment in the fulfillment of the Mitzvos. In whatever way it is, he yearns to receive the Torah.

This week we will read about the receiving of the Torah. On Shavu’os we have the Chag of Mattan Torah and every day we receive the Torah anew.  So what is the problem? Why is it so hard to receive the Torah?

Our problem is that we are trembling with fear. The Torah is extremely holy and awesomely exalted, and I am so very low. It is seemingly suitable for that Torah scholar in the Beis Hamidrash … perhaps I too had some connection to it when I was learning well in Yeshiva … It was seemingly given to the Gedolei Ha’dor, to the great scholars, to Moshe Rabeinu, to the prophets and to the Tzaddikim. To Me? How could it be!’

“I hope to appease the heavenly court with the Daf Ha’Yomi – for people like us that’s surely enough.

And anyway, who thinks about the receiving of the Torah? I’ve got other problems – I’m entangled in debts, suffering from health problems, dealing with my children and my business affairs. Why should I fool myself? My problems are external and mundane things. The Torah is for pure and refined people – for those who have ‘Torah-like problems’, needing encouragement in avodas Hashem and the understanding of deep Talmudic topics. But me? How could I even think of mixing the holy Torah into my lowly problems … what about the honor of the Torah?”

This is why when the Torah declares and announces the receiving of the Torah we remain in our places – they cannot possibly be calling us, they presumably meant someone else.

The Torah knows us – it therefore begins the parsha with the story of Yisro. Look carefully at this story and see how relevant it is to us:

One clear day, an old sorcerer gets up, after spending his best years entrenched in the services of many different religions, trying every form of idolatry and investigating every false god, and decides to make a serious change – to simply be a Jew. He was the father-in-law of Moshe Rabeinu, the leader of the Jewish people, and he sent word of his coming visit. Then, something unbelievable happened; the entire Jewish people began to organize a royal welcoming for him. And if this isn’t enough, the Zohar Hakadosh adds that when Yisro came, Hashem’s name was exalted and raised high throughout the entire universe.

What happened that was so great? Some old sorcerer decided to convert? Good for him, what is the whole fuss about?

Here is hidden a tremendous secret, that the Rebbe reveals in Lesson 10. Know, says the Rebbe, that when Hashem desires to reveal his glory, he need you! Yes, precisely because you are who you are, distanced and tired – it specifically because of this that you are needed. This is because if you, who are so far, find the glory of the king in your lowly place, this is truly a chiddush (novelty). In the royal city everyone knows the king, it’s hard not to. But the king is specifically interested in whether he is being recognized out there, close to the borders. Do they also know there who the king is? And when you come from there and say “now I know…” (Shmos 18,11) – now I understand that the Torah is talking to me.  Now I know that everything is truly Elokus (Godliness) and hashgacha (Divine providence). Then, the entire creation is breath taken – someone is saying something new. And the deeper and further the place from which bursts forth this understanding of yours, the greater is the novelty and praise that comes from it.

Therefore, before the giving of the Torah, we are told about Yisro. The Torah is trying to tell us: “don’t say it wasn’t meant for you or that you’re not holy enough, for I am giving an example of the least holy person in the world, of someone who truly felt like he makes no difference, to see what a storm he created.” Hashem wrote the Torah specifically for you – they are searching for someone just like you to come and receive the Torah.

And so, when we read this week about the receiving of the Torah, let us not leave the gift unopened. For we know that it was really sent to us – it is suitable for all our lacks, and when it was written, they had us in mind…

You can download the entire Parasha sheet from here.

“Azamra”

When a person begins to look at himself and sees how far he is from being good, and how he is full of sin, he’s liable to fall as a result. He won’t be able to pray afterwards at all.

He is therefore obligated to search, seek, and find within himself, some good. How is it possible that he never did any Mitzvah in his life, or any good thing? And even if when he starts to look at that good which he found, and he sees that that good itself is in bad shape, not having been done correctly and mixed with selfish motivations, it’s still impossible that there won’t be some small good point, a Nekudah Tovah, somewhere in that little bit of good.

And so he must also continue to look and seek until he finds within himself another good thing. And even if this good is also mixed with a lot of garbage, still, there is some good point in it. And so he must continue to search and seek, until he finds more good points.

Through finding within oneself good points, one stops being judged negatively and begins to be judged favorably. He can then do Teshuvah, revive himself and achieve happiness, whatever his situation may be. He can then pray, sing, and thank Hashem.

Meshivas Nefesh #26, based on Likutei Moharan 282

“Azamra”

In this passage we come across one of the foundations of Hischazkus, which Reb Nosson discusses a great deal. Many people have merited beginning life anew in light of this wondrous idea which is referred to as “Azamra”- I will sing, from the verse, “I will sing to my G-d with what I have left.” אזמרה לאלקי בעודי,  – To sing to Hashem with the עודי – the little bit within me that is still good.

Many people wonder about why we should search for good points in the good things that we’ve done. Doesn’t the Rebbe provide many ways for a person to encourage himself without concentrating on what he’s done? On the contrary, it would seem better to look beyond actions, and to realize the pride which Hashem takes just from someone being a Jew, or for someone to begin anew and put the past out of his mind, or to focus only on the ultimate purpose, etc. And why must we probe our actions?

Also, shouldn’t we be concerned that by only seeing the good we might come to whitewash evil?

The truth is, however, that in this awesome piece of advice the Rebbe descends to the people entrapped in darkness, to reveal for them a path how ‘there’ (in the darkness) to find points of light.

The reality is that people fall under a powerful delusion, that because of their actions and poor character, they have an inner feeling of remoteness and lack of relationship with Hashem. People get so used to living with this feeling that even when it doesn’t cause them sadness, their souls lay asleep. Proof of this is that they don’t feel any enjoyment from a Mitzvah or Avodah, and they can’t sing to Hashem in their prayer.

“Dwelling of the Shechinah”

We must realize that any such feelings of distance, is of utmost gravity. These feelings cause the Shechinah not to dwell between us. The main dwelling of the Shechinah is in a person’s mind when he illuminates himself with thoughts of the intimacy he has with Hashem. When a person views himself as distant as a result of his deeds and habits which aren’t good, he separates himself from the Shechinah.

It is therefore necessary to descend to seemingly distant places, and to cause the Shechinah to dwell ‘there’, through a person discovering how through his own free will, he has already merited to bring down the Shechinah. He undoubtedly has a Nekudah Tovah which he accomplished one time, and when he reminds himself about it, and revives himself with faith that this Mitzvah is very dear in Hashem’s eyes, he thereby brings the Shechinah down.  With this thought he performs the first paragraph in the Shulchan Aruch – to always place Hashem before us.

“To Judge Others Favorably”

From where does a person draw the energy at times of sadness to encourage himself with the little bit of good which he has?

The Rebbe prefaces ‘Azamra’ by teaching us that we must judge ‘others’ favorably. For example, when entering a Shul, look at all the congregants, and try to find in them any positive trait, in a way that you will start realizing how Hashem rests upon this Jew who merits laying Tefillin, and on that Jew who is crowned with a beard and payos, and so on. Eventually, you will start to think, “I’m not different from them and I certainly also have some good through which Hashem rests upon me.”

The story is told that once Reb Nosson asked R’ Meir of Teplik about somebody from Teplik, and he answered him indifferently, as if he’s no one to talk about. Reb Nosson told him, “If you will regard people in such a way, then the entire world could be found blameworthy. Try and look at everyone who lives in your town. Start from the first house, and you’ll for sure find fault in them. Go on from house to house, until you reach your own. Are you the most upright person in the town?”

Reb Meir answered, “I’m also not a good person.”

Reb Nosson then told him, “You’re also not a good person? Who is, then? When you will look at everyone and find some good in them, then you will be able to find good in yourself also.”

“To Separate the Good from the Bad”

Of course, the intention isn’t to judge everyone favorably and thereby “kasher” wrong actions. On the contrary, a person is obligated to be able to differentiate and know the difference between good and evil, and from what sort of behavior to keep away from.

For this, ‘judgment’ is necessary, but the judgment must be ‘favorable’ – meaning, to be careful to allow the Shechinah to continue to dwell here. In other words, we must make a distinction between the good and the bad, but to bring down the Shechinah through knowing that every Jew has a Nekudah Tovah and a Mitzvah which he did with his own free will, including himself.

When a person thinks constantly in such a way, he will awaken from his sleep, from his feelings of distance and lack of relationship with Hashem, and he will then be able to open himself up to sing and thank Hashem.

The Battle Itself Strengthens the Heart

“A person’s strength lies in his heart. Somebody with a strong heart is not afraid of anyone or anything. He is capable of accomplishing powerful and awesome things, and winning difficult battles. This is all through his strength and courage, by which he fearlessly runs into heavy battles. The same pertains with regard to serving Hashem. This is a concept which we must understand very well.” Meshivas Nefesh par. 24, based on Likutei Moharan 249

The Battle Itself Strengthens the Heart

A very important idea is revealed in this lecture. The most important factor with which to be successful in battles doesn’t lie in physical strength, but rather in boldness of heart. The most important thing in serving Hashem is that a person should have the strength of heart and a holy courage with which to be victorious in battle against the yetzer, to stand up to the material desires pulling at his heart, and to involve himself in Torah and Avodah.

With this in mind, we can understand why even after studying and hearing the ways of Hischazkus and Hisorerus, spiritual encouragement and inspiration, people remain unable to uplift and encourage themselves. This is an issue which troubles many people in the beginning of their path to find encouragement, and this paragraph supplies the answer: the main encouragement and strength lies in the heart. All the ways of Hischazkus come into realization only when a person strengthens his own heart to be brave and strong in order to listen and be inspired.

But how does a person embolden his heart, and fill himself with battle spirit? The answer is found in light of the Chazal which the Rebbe mentions in the aforementioned lesson in Likutei Moharan. “Who is strong? One who conquers his will.” This means that strength of heart is found by someone who has succeeded in conquering his desire, which in turn gives him the morale and the strength to continue further.

We can thus understand that even when someone hasn’t yet merited waging a successful and winning battle, by starting to fight no matter what, he can still start being a victor from this moment on. Just being involved in the battle and being prepared to fight, in itself renews a person’s strength and gives him the bravery to go on fighting. It becomes a vicious cycle – The victory at war comes about through his bravery, which in itself comes about through being prepared to enter into battle.

It is therefore crucial to strengthen the heart. Because, through giving up the battle, and not being strong in trying to vanquish his yetzer, a person’s morale and his desire to move forward is weakened. A weakness and emotional pain then creeps into his heart, since it is not fighting, that causes the heart to be weakened.

Then, not only is he not winning, but he is also losing all his energy and willpower, until his morale becomes weaker and weaker until he starts feeling that he doesn’t even have the strength to fight. It seems to him that he doesn’t have the ability to start moving even the smallest obstacles. With time, he begins to forget that there’s even a war and that he has something to conquer. Even when he is inspired by a spark of will to fight, he immediately reminds himself that he doesn’t have the strength to do anything. It therefore becomes vital, to find a solution to build up the heart with a new spirit.

The story is told of R’ Yudel, who asked the Rebbe how does one obtain a heart? The Rebbe answered him, “You tell me, by which Tzaddik have you been able to obtain enthusiasm? The main thing is to recite the words of prayer, with your mouth. Keep reciting and the feeling will come by itself.”

The main thing is to start actually fighting no matter what, without hesitation. This fills the heart with a battle spirit. Thus, he will be able to truly enter into battle. The most important thing is strength of heart, and a valiant boldness, with the conviction that he surely has the ability to be victorious.

The Main Strength of Heart we Receive from Tzaddikim

We must know that even someone whose heart is totally weak, to the degree that he can’t do anything because of his lack of courage, can also receive from the Tzaddikim a new and joyous heart. A new spirit can blow within him that he should be able to be victorious and actually achieve what Hashem wants from him.

Although the most important thing is to actually fight the battles in order to strengthen morale, how does one get the strength to start? For this we need to become close to Tzaddikim and to study their teachings, which fill the heart with such potent encouragement with which to see the abilities that every Jew has to win every war, through his extraordinary soul, and how he has already merited grabbing so many good points, and has already been victorious in so many battles.

The more a person gets involved in studying Hischazkus, the more he fortifies his heart not to be weak and cowardly, but to be brave hearted, strong and mighty in his service of Hashem. And so, he will be able to uplift himself and strengthen himself to stand and fight no matter what.

The main thing is to push away any thoughts of lack of strength and ability, to just think how he is certainly capable, and to keep on trying – to not look back on the lack of success, and keep on doing whatever you can. Recite prayers and beg Hashem to come close to Him, even if you don’t feel anything. Try overcoming your trials even without any feeling. From this you will have the strength to be a fitting warrior, brave and valiant in the service of Hashem, with nothing capable of holding you back.

We must remember this in every detail, every day, every prayer, and every trial.  We must request from Hashem that we be properly inspired from these words, because everything is dependent upon understanding the importance of strengthening the heart with morale to keep on fighting. All heroes and all truly successful people achieved what they did without any physical strength at all. Their entire strength was in their heart.

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