The Full Blessing

Sur meira, v’asei tov.” (Avoid evil, do good).  – Psalm 34:15

Especially when we consider our mitzvoth, avodah, and Yiddishkeit, that may all be flourishing, we can easily overlook areas of our lives, where we fall short of the standard, prescribed for the pious. That is to say, that every area of our life should represent our values. Inasmuch that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were blessed “in everything, through everything, and with everything,” this implies according to the Talmud that in this life they had already received a taste of Olam Haba (the-World-to-Come; Bavra Batra 16b-17a). Thus, they were blessed with heavenly as well as earthly blessings; perhaps, their blessings rested upon their character, inasmuch that the Talmud also asserts that the yetzer hara (evil inclination held no sway over them (ibid.). If so, then all areas of their lives may have been blessed because there was no corruption to be found lurking about in the corners of their personal lives.

Yet, we are not on the level of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, in terms of our challenges in the face of adversity from the yetzer hara (evil inclination). Thus, the TANYA recommends that we need to “turn away from evil” in all areas of our lives, in order to receive the full blessings due to our positive endeavors. In other words, we have the opportunity to bring more blessings into our lives, beyond those we receive from “doing good,” if we sweep out the dust, so to speak, from the places in our lives that need improvement, the faults, and minor sins that have been neglected. These are the aveiros  that most people trample upon, figuratively speaking, because they seem trivial in their eyes. If we search our hearts, we may find that we are also guilty of “trampling upon” these sins. Therefore, let us search our minds and heart, and root out the behaviors that prevent us from receiving the full blessings H’Shem would like to grant to us.

note: based on Likutei Amarim, middle of chapter 30


reflections: Likutei Amarim, middle of chapter 29

If we return to H’Shem, He will return to us (Malachi 3:7, Jeremiah 29:12). As we follow through with a sincere teshuva (repentance; literally, “turning”) in our lives, H’Shem will meet us halfway, in our efforts to return to Him through a thorough shift in our values, and lifestyle. We should examine ourselves each day for the sake of rooting out past sinful habits. Our thoughts should be examined as well as our emotions. Only with help from Above, may we purge ourselves of the accumulation of spiritual darkness that surrounds us as a result of our transgressions. B’ezrach H’Shem.

Thus, this is an ongoing process; additionally, there are levels of teshuvah, inasmuch that the more we change over time, the more we are able to better recognize our faults and make amends for them. This is spiritual progress, based upon an inward desire to cleanse the soul: even to the extent that we may be free, figuratively speaking, from the mire wherein we would otherwise sink. King David’s concern for his sanctity is a positive example, as he said, “My sin is constantly before me,” inasmuch that his recollection of past sins kept him humble and served as a reminder against committing these types of sins in the future.

If only we could be so careful as to recognize that all aspects of our life should fall under the guidance of Torah. In like manner that the Kings of Israel were required to keep a copy of the Torah at hand all of the time, who are we to think that we can do as we please, regardless of the guidelines given to us for a life of sanctity. For the sake of character development, one method of travailing in sincere efforts to change, would be to focus upon a single fault, making an effort to root that out of our lives. There is no better time than now; and no need to put off this resolution.

Let the Light Shine

Tanya Insights: parashas Tetzaveh 5782

(based on Likutei Amarim – beginning of ch.29)

The light of the seven-branched menorah in the Mishkan (portable tabernacle of the desert was like the original light (ohr chadash) of creation, even before the sun, moon, and the stars were created. How so? First of all, the mishkan itself is likened to a microcosm of the world. This is derived by the sages, who noted the parallel language between the creation narrative, and the building of the Mishkan. Additionally, the accoutrements of the miskan are likened to aspects of the soul. Hence, it follows that the menorah may be understood as symbolic of the light of the soul: “The spirit of man is the lamp of the L-RD” (Proverbs 20:27, JPS).

The Tanya references the teaching from the Zohar, concerning chochmah, a window within the soul, whereof the divine light may shine through, if we do not “pull down the shades,” so to speak by way of darkening our minds and tainting our soul with the stains of our aveiros (sins). Thus, if we are unable to let the light shine through, the Tanya recommends, based on a passage in the Zohar, that we may seek to “crush” our egos, through introspection, resulting in alleviating the darkness that obscures the light in our souls.

“True sacrifice to G-d is a contrite spirit; G-d, You will not despise a contrite and crushed heart.” – Psalms 51:19, JPS 1985 Tanach

of Laziness & Entropy

“With strength and determination of the heart, against the impulse to evil that causes your body to feel heavy and makes you lazy, from the Animal Soul’s element of earth.”

– The Practical TANYA: Likutei Amarim, middle of ch. 25

If we attribute our laziness, strictly to ourselves, then we may view our laziness as a character trait of the self. From where within ourselves will we draw upon, to challenge ourselves to do better? Our negative character traits stand against us. Yet, if we attribute laziness to the impulse that is derived from the “animal soul,” then we should rely on the power of our “godly soul,” that part of us that contains a reservoir of good, originating with a connection to G-d.

In this fashion, we may overcome the sense of lethargy that the “element of earth” from the animal soul causes us to feel. From the perspective of environmental terms, somewhat “outside of the box,” all things in this world eventually tend towards entropy; this is in accordance with the natural cycles of the Earth. Yet, our godly soul is the part of us that transcends olam hazeh (this world); thus, we may potentially defeat the inertia of our soul, by relying on our connection to G-d.

  • based upon the TANYA: Likutei Amarim, middle of ch. 25

Hidden Presence

parashas insights: Yisro 5782

“Search for the L-rd and His might, continually seek His countenance.”

– Psalm 105:4

G-d’s presence in this world (olam hazeh) is hidden. Yet, He yearns that we seek for Him. Our seeking is more than a hide-and-seek game; to seek G-d also includes preparing ourselves for the encounter, when we find Him. For, His “supernal holiness” (Zohar 3, 297a) may only fill a vessel that has emptied itself in surrender to G-d’s will. Thus, through sanctification, our lives may be sanctified as a preparation for encountering G-d’s Presence.

How may our lives be sanctified? Traditionally, our lives are sanctified through observance of the commandments. “Blessed are You, L-rd, our G-d, King of the Universe, Who has sanctified us with His commandments…” Moreover, because the Torah and G-d are one, His light is revealed within the world through the observance of mitzvos (commandments). If divine light is brought into the world through our positive actions in this world, then we ourselves are a light unto the world (Isaiah 42:6). So, as we are sanctified through the observance of mitzvos, the world also receives the positive benefit of our observance.

In this week’s Torah reading, parashas Yisro, B’nei Yisrael assembles at the base of Mount Sinai. Moses is given a set of instructions, in order that the Children of Israel may prepare themselves: “And the L-RD said unto Moses: ‘Go unto the people, and sanctify them today and tomorrow” (Exodus 19:10, JPS 1917 Tanach). This is in preparation for the third day, when the L-RD will descend upon Mt. Sinai (Exodus 19:11). “O L-RD, bow Thy heavens, and come down; touch the mountains, that they may smoke” (Psalms 144:5, JPS).

How is it possible for H’Shem to descend on Sinai? Only inasmuch that the heavens were stretched like a bow, so that H’Shem could be simultaneously in Shomayim, and on the top of Mt. Sinai (Mechilta). Yet, this may also be explained through the metaphorical language of tzimtzum: that He descended on Sinai by way of the many levels of contractions, between heaven and earth, until His Presence, hidden within the cloud (Exodus 19:9), revealed itself to Moshe, while from the vantage point of the people, all that could be seen was the thunder, lightning, and smoke (Exodus 19:18, 20:15).

G-d’s Presence in the World

TANYA Insights: 11 Shevat (leap year) 5782

“By the word of the L-RD were the heavens made; and all the hosts of them by the breath of His mouth. ”– Psalm 33:6, JPS 1917 Tanach

A Chassidic perspective emphasizes the need for the continual maintenance of the universe – G-d’s Creation – through His will that constantly maintains the existence of the world. Without His continual presence as the force that sustains the world, the world would cease to exist. In reading today’s passage from the TANYA, I thought how this idea can be compared to an event in this week’s Torah reading. Namely, when “Moses held out his arm over the sea, and at daybreak the sea returned to its normal state” (Exodus 14:27, JPS 1985 Tanach).

Inasmuch that “the sea returned to its normal state,” this connotes the understanding that the normal laws of gravity were restored to the sea. For, two towering walls of water had formed a corridor for B’nei Yisrael to cross through the Sea of Reeds, to be safely ensconced on the other shore. As the Egyptians pursued the Children of Israel, these walls collapsed upon them, drowning Pharaoh and his army in the sea. The restoration to natural law, and the subsequent collapse of the sea walls was signaled by Moshe’s act of holding “his arm over the sea.”

At that point H’Shem relinquished His influence over gravity, thus causing the sea to be restored to its original natural state. The TANYA passage relates how that if H’Shem caused His Will to cease from maintaining the Universe, all would return to its former state of nothingness, before the beginning of time. Clearly, the example given above is a more comprehensible occurrence, whereas, mankind can hardly conceive of the world ceasing to exist. It would be like a computer without electricity – blank screen.

Metaphorically, this should help us to better appreciate the presence of G-d in the world, that animates all spheres of life, plant, animal and human, as well as inanimate objects such as stones, precious metals, and the different layers of the earth, not to mention the artistic beauty of the skies, especially at sunrise and sunset. Shiveesee H’Shem l’negdi tamid – I am ever mindful of the L-RD’s presence (Psalm 16:8).

motzei Shabbos: parashas Vayechi 5782

havdallah service
parashas Insight on prayer

How to combat two impediments to prayer:

1). arrogance & pride, 2). sin & negative thoughts.

note: based on the teachings of Nachman of Breslov, and his contemporary student, Mohorosh.(Lekutei Mohoron, Part 1, Lesson 97; The Inner Stream: Insights on the Parsha of the Week)

the antidote to arrogance and pride: sur meira (avoid evil) – Self-Abnegation (Bitul)

“For G-d has made me forget all my toil an all of my father’s household.” – Genesis 41:51

the antidote to sin and negative thoughts: asei tov (do good) – Holy Thoughts in prayer

“For G-d has made me fruitful in the land of my suffering.” – Genesis 41:52

Wisdom of the Ages

shiur for parashas Toldos 5782

“Isaac dug anew the wells which had been dug in the days of his father Abraham and which the Philistines had stopped up after Abraham’s death; and he gave them the same names that his father had given them.” – Genesis 26:18, JPS 1985 Tanach

The passing on of traditions from generation to generation, ad infinitum, until Malchus Elokim (the Kingdom of G-d), takes a precedent in our lives, beyond compare, ushering in the Messianic Age. These are the wells of wisdom re-dug, figuratively speaking, in every generation, from where the living waters may be drawn every day, as a fresh supply of life-sustaining spiritual truths.

Each pious individual of the succeeding generations will – H’Shem willing – make an effort like Isaac “to return and dig to the aspect of ‘a well of living water’ through many types of intelligences and great and concealed counsels” (Me’or Einayim, Thus, Isaac, who re-dug his father Abraham’s wells, that had been stopped up by the Philistines, serves as an example, on a symbolic level for us.