Friday, July 30, 2010
Friday, July 23, 2010
This week's haftorah is the first of the seven "Haftarot of Consolation," that we read on the Shabbatot (Shabbats) between Tisha b'Av and Rosh Hashanah. This section from Yesha'yahu begins with G-d's refrain to the prophets: "Comfort, oh comfort My people, says your G-d. Speak comfortingly to Yerushalayim, and cry to her, that her period of exile has been fulfilled and that her sins have been forgiven..." (Yeshaya'hu 40:1). Yesha'yahu's prophecy describes some of the miraculous events that we now see unfolding during the beginning of the Messianic era, such as the return of the exiles to Yerushalayim. We still await the revelation of G‑d's glory and power, the rewards and retribution, and the complete solace for Israel described in the haftorah.
While the consolation in this week's haftorah is appropriate for the Shabbat after Tisha b'Av, it also has a hidden connection to the parashah – Parashat Va'etchanan which includes the Shema prayer. We have a tradition that the word Shema – שְׁמַע is an acronym for the beginning of the last verse of our haftorah. The first letters of the Hebrew words "Lift up your eyes on high…" (Yesha'yahu 40:26), spell out the word Shema – שְׁמַע. The phrase in Hebrew reads "שְׂאוּ מָרוֹם עֵינֵיכֶם" ("Se'u Marom Eineichem"). The continuation of the verse of the haftorah is "…and see who created all these…" This goes together with the lesson of the Shema prayer – to understand that Hashem is One and only Creator. When we look around the world we live in, some things make sense to us and some don't. We see so much violence and destruction. However, if we look to Heaven and understand that "Hashem our G-d is One," it will become clear that there is one Creator who made everything and causes all events to happen. The haftarah tells us to lift our eyes to see the same principle that we are told to hear in the parasha. We need to focus both our faculties of hearing and seeing on the oneness of Hashem. When we understand that He is the only power from beginning to end, then our questions are silenced.
Friday, July 16, 2010
I feel that Yesha’ahu is speaking directly to us today, that we should feel remorse for the ruin of our people, and strengthen our vision for a future of a united thriving Torah community infused with justice, morality and righteousness in the heart of our Holy Land.
How did the Daughter of Tzion Sink into Such Deep Mud?
From the Depth of the Abyss Hashem Calls Us Back
Shabbat Chazon – Visualizing our Temple Within
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Thursday, July 8, 2010
The Matriarch Influences the Holiness of the Jewish Family
The captain of the family-ship is the matriarch. She steers the entire family to secure shores. We can find an allusion to this from the fact that the haftorah precedes, "House of Ya'acov" to the "Families of the House of Israel." It is well known that in the Torah, "House of Ya'acov" refers to the women (See Rashi, Shemot 19:3). Holy women create holy families. The laws of the mikvah are called the laws of family purity rather than the laws of women's purity, because keeping the laws of nidah meticulously, (separating from the husband during menstruation until going to the kosher mivkah) creates holy families. Children conceived in purity have a higher spiritual potential. However, this does not detract from the many great ba'alei teshuva (returnees to Judaism), who are exceptions. Avraham our father was himself conceived through nidah. Hashem always gives us a chance to rectify our past, yet, by keeping family purity and modesty, the Jewish woman influences her family with holiness. The Zohar elaborates on the blessings bestowed on the family of the woman who is covered even in the corners of her home: Her children are compared to olive branches (Tehillim128:3), that do not lose their leaves neither winter nor summer. Her sons rise up in importance above other sons of the world, just as the olive tree is considered more important than the rest of the trees because of its oil. "Not only that, but her husband will be blessed with everything – from the blessings of above and from the blessings of below, with wealth, with sons, and with children of children…As it states, 'Hashem shall bless you out of Tzion, and you shall see the good of Yerushalayim all the days of your life. You shall see your children's children and peace upon Israel'" (Tehillim 128:5-6), (Zohar, Parashat Naso 80).
The Connection Between the Haftorah and the Parasha
The Way to Redemption Paved by the Jewish Family
"Moshe heard the people weeping throughout their families, every man in the opening of his tent." (Bemidbar 11:10). "Everything goes according to the family" (Imrei Pinchas, Gate One). When the family is fenced against illicit relationships and when the door of their tent is sealed from improper intruders, Israel is protected against both internal strife and attacks from the enemy. The holiness of the Jewish women protects the "Tents of Ya'acov." Therefore, not even the most cunning enemy, with all the dark powers at his disposition have any power over them. When Bilam saw the holiness of the Jewish dwelling, guarding the privacy of each family, his curse reverted to a blessing. The word "mishpacha" משפחה (family), shares the same numerical value (433) with the word hakochot הכחת (the powers). The holiness of the family has greater powers than a whole army, protecting us from any possible evil. Interestingly, the word הכחת can also mean "you have proven." The servant of Avraham used this word when praying to Hashem to send him the right wife for building the continuation of his Master's family. "…She shall say, drink and I will give your camels drink also, let her be she that you have proven [suitable] for your servant Yitzchak" (Bereishit 24:14). It is not an easy task for the Jewish woman today to keep the family together. We need to do everything in our power to prevent the dangerously increasing rate of broken homes in the Jewish world, and use the "wisdom of women" to build our home. The letters of the word משפחה can be broken up into משח פה – "Mashach po" –"The anointed one is here." Through building holy families, we pave the way for Redemption.
The Tightrope of Balancing Family and Work
"The Shechina (Divine Feminine Indwelling Presence) dwells only on a family of distinguished Jewish lineage" (Babylonian Talmud, Yevamot 42a). A healthy Jewish home serves as a mini Temple, a place of serenity, respect, love, and holiness – it is a home for G-d. It takes the presence of the mistress of the home to keep the light of the Shechina present within the family. There are many intricate Torah laws regarding relationships among family members. The basic foundation requires sufficient time to devote to raising the family. Today it is not a simple task for the working mom to be home whenever needed. A woman in my family was fired from her job as an assistant lawyer, because she requested to adapt her work hours to the schedule of the day care center. What is most disconcerting, is, that the lawyer who fired her, happened to be a chareidi Jewish mother of a flock of children herself. In the cruel corporate world, even the mitzvah-observant are being forced into replacing devotion to our families with loyalty to the inanimate entity of the Big Corporation. Sarah Azulay on Jewish Family Life and Corporate Business, describes another, extremely articulate, corporate female attorney, who had been looking for a new position for more than half a year. In her job interview, she requested some flexibility, since, her children were young – "I could work until 6:00 or so in the evening, go home to my children, and after they are in bed, continue my work as necessary." When, women are being cornered into proving unyielding dedication to climb up Big Corporation's never-ending ladder, it causes a spiritual descent for the Jewish family. The descent of Western culture into obsessive thirst for materialism is a sledgehammer against a three thousand year old cement foundation, centered on family and spiritual development. The unfortunate result is reflected in the growing rate of divorces, critical health problems, violence in schools, crime, and other evidence of a society rotten to its core. Which material benefits can outweigh any of these disconcerting "side effects"? There is a place in society for the Jewish woman who insists on the "Golden Mean" advocated by the Rambam, and replaces excessive workaholic obsession with proper balance between time for work and time for raising the family. I believe the most vital moments, when our presence at home is absolutely essential are the times of waking up, serving breakfast, sending the children to daycare/school and the intimate sweetness of tucking the family into bed. In our day, it is not easy to keep our priorities in place, which demand strengthening our bonds with our spouse and guiding our children. However, walking the delicately balanced tightrope between family and work, is one of the secret pathways to building holy families, and redeeming Israel.
Thursday, July 1, 2010
Haftorat Parashat Pinchas
This week's Haftorah mentions the beautiful verse that compares Israel's relationship with Hashem to that of a bride and a groom. This metaphor clearly alludes to the exclusive, monogamous marriage as the highest ideal in the Torah. Expanding on this topic, I have included exerts with my response to some of the 17 comments I received in reply to my article on Pilegesh, (Parashat Chukat). I look forward to further discussion.
Comfort After Affliction
This week's haftorah is the first of a series of the three "haftorot of affliction," read during the Three Weeks of mourning for Yerushalayim, between the fasts of 17 Tamuz and 9 Av. Rabbi Avraham ben David of Luneil writes, "From Parashat Bereshit through the 17th of Tamuz, the haftarah is chosen to correspond to the parashah topic by topic; but from there on, the choice of haftarah is determined entirely by the time of year and the corresponding historical events" (Sefer HaManhig, Hilchot Ta'anit, Din 16). When as this year, the 17th of Tamuz falls before Parshat Pinchas, its haftarah begins the sequence of twelve haftarot: Three of Affliction, Seven of Consolation, and Two of Repentance. The three of "punishment" are followed by ten of "comfort" since after suffering it takes a long time to be comforted.
In Spite of Exile – Hashem Never Casts Us Away
The first vision in the book of Yirmeyahu, the vision of the almond tree branch teaches us that just as an almond tree is very quick to blossom, so too, G‑d quickly carries out His plan to punish the Jews for their sins. The second vision of a boiling pot, whose foam was directed northward, was an allusion to the afflictions the Jewish people would suffer, at the hands of Babylon from the north of Israel. The kingdoms of the north would lay siege on Yerushalayim and Judea, because of Israel's idol-worship and abandonment of G‑d. The haftorah ends with a reassuring prophecy. In spite of the punishments, G-d will never ever cast the Jewish people completely away.
As A Bride Following Her Groom to the Wilderness
No matter how much we may stray from His ways, Hashem will always remember our original love and dedication. "…I remember the loving-kindness of your youth, your love as a bride, when you followed Me in the desert, in a land not sown… Israel is holy to Hashem, the first-fruits of His increase; all that devour him shall be held guilty, evil shall come upon them, says Hashem (Yirmeyahu 2:2-3). Rashi explains that the word kelulotayich refers to entering into the chupah (marriage canopy) with Hashem, through the great emunah that Israel had during the Exodus. A bride is called a kalah from the same word, which also means completion or perfection such as in (Eicha 2:15) "perfection of beauty." Likewise, a bride during her wedding is glowing with perfection of beauty (Metzudat Tzion ibid.). According to Metzudat David, Hashem remembers his love for Israel when she was a bride, at the time of the chupah at Mount Sinai, when we received the Torah. That pivotal moment is compared to the wedding of G-d to His people (Radak Ibid). Malbim illustrates the verse as a metaphor in which Hashem is compared to a stranger who came from afar. A wealthy man's daughter brought him into her father's house, and was kind to him. Her soul cleaved to his and she married him. Finally, she left her father's house to go with him to the wilderness, because of her great belief and trust in him. Each of the parts of this metaphor alludes to Israel's merits. 1. "The loving kindness of your youth" – refers to our Avot (forefathers), who taught the whole world about G-d, when He was still unknown among the nations, who worshipped stones and sticks. 2. "Your love as a bride" – The marriage, corresponds to the Exodus and Matan Torah (Receiving the Torah), when Israel entered a covenant with Hashem. 3. The final stage, "When you followed Me in the desert" refers to Israel's strong emunah to follow Hashem into the wilderness with great desire to cleave to Hashem.
Love After Marriage
Malbim demonstrates how the love between the bride and groom gradually increases; reaching a higher level only after the beginning state of marriage, when an even more trusting relationship develops. My personal experience, of having been married for almost thirty years, is that as we mature emotionally and spiritually, we increase our capacity for true love and unity. As a young bride, my own self-expression was the center of importance for me. Yet, as the years pass, I desire much more to unite with my husband in the highest way. Unfortunately, today's world is full of distractions, and we, women, have so many "important" things to accomplish, that our relationship with our husband sometimes is pushed aside. Perhaps this is also a reflection of our relationship with Hashem, which easily goes down the wayside, if we do not exert a conscious effort. The first step to fulfillment in marriage is to place the relationship as the highest priority in our life. Realizing that the relationship between husband and wife is a reflection of the relationship between Hashem and His people, makes it easier to appreciate the fact that there is nothing more important than working on our marriage. The second step is to get used to praying for the success of our husbands daily, in as much detail as we can, including shalom bayit (peace in the home). I have seen incredible changes happen, as a result of a wife's prayer for her husband. We all know the power of prayer. However, the prayer for shalom bayit is especially powerful, because it is like praying for what Hashem prays for already. The final step is to seek spiritual guidance together. Developing a relationship with a Rabbi, helps direct married couples to develop an evermore trusting relationship.
Monogamy – Reflecting Hashem's Relationship with His People
The comparison between the relationship of Israel and G-d with that of a bride and a groom is a reoccurring theme in the Torah. This teaches us to value the exclusive monogamous relationship between husband and wife. Just as the Jews had one G-d (Ha-shem echad), G-d chose only one people (am echad). In the Garden of Eden, after creating the first woman, (note, Hashem created just one woman from and for man) Hashem describes the nature of the marital institution as the deepest union between a man with his pre-destined wife: "That is why a man leaves his father and mother, and cleaves to his wife: and they become one flesh (basar echad)" (Bereishit 2:24). The matrimony between Adam and Chava fashioned by no other than G-d, in the Garden of Eden, is a model for the ideal marriage. Noach, too, who, preserved human life after the flood, had only one wife. The "woman of valor" glorified in the Book of Mishlei is not "women of valor," and rare was the rabbi, of the thousands of sages of the Talmud, who in polygamous times, had more than one wife. It is true that the bible includes several cases of polygamy. However, most of these cases were not only with the first wife's consent, but even through her initiative. The rabbinic system of law, the halacha, allows polygamy for Sephardim, however, "In a place where it is not the custom to marry more than one wife, a man is not permitted to marry an additional wife besides his wife, without her permission…" (Shulchan Aruch, Eben Ha'ezer Hilchot Ketubot 76:8). From all this there can be no doubt that Judaism strongly upholds an exclusive, monogamous marriage as the highest ideal.
Frustrations with Marriage and the Diminished Light of the Moon
Unfortunately, innumerable women are single, unhappily married, or divorced. As we see from a few of the comments I received in reply to my writing on pilegesh, many women are rightfully frustrated with the institution of marriage. Gila Manolson, author of "The Magic Touch," commented on my article: "Unfortunately, part of the reason why women are willing to be a pilegesh, is probably the statistical lack of eligible, quality Jewish men who want to get married." Getting a get (Jewish Divorce Certificate) can sometimes be a very difficult dragged out procedure, and even after receiving it, there is no guarantee that the ex-husband will honor the ketubah. One anonymous woman commented on my article: "The ketubah is worth nothing in our day and age. A man can refuse to pay it at the Beit Din or he can refuse to pay it afterwards. No community will put an iota of social pressure on a man who defaults on his ketubah payments or child support and allows his ex-wife and children to starve." Believe me, I do not need to ask "a flesh and blood divorced woman how she feels about a ketubah." I am personally, very keenly aware, to the depths of my prayers, of the difficulties many women encounter both in marriage and with the process of Jewish divorce. However, as frustrating as these situations may be, they still do not undermine the holiness of the Jewish marriage. The fact that Israel made a Golden Calf does not counteract the holiness of Matan Torah and our eternal covenant with Hashem. Hashem did recognize that there is something intrinsically unfair in the very fabric of creation, through the diminished light of the moon, which alludes to the woman. This is why Hashem asked for atonement for making the moon small (Chulin 60b). The suffering of agunot, abused and divorced women, whose ex-husbands dishonor the ketubah are manifestations of the diminished light of the moon, for which Hashem requested atonement. However, we need to strengthen our emunah that the end of days is near when "The light of the moon will indeed become like the light of the sun" (Yesha'yahu 30:26).
Strengthen Emunah and Do Not Tolerate Polygamy and Exile!
The difficulties experienced during our pre-redemptive era, are all part of the contractions and birth-pangs of Mashiach. Just like a woman prepares herself for child-birth, so do we need to come prepared into the marriage, and do everything in our power, through self-development and discernment to avoid entering an abusive relationship. Nothing like steadfast emunah, prayer, and guidance by our true Rabbis and Rebbetzins can help support us through the suffering with an un-holy man in the various stages of marriage and divorce. I hope to strengthen the emunah of the woman who commented on my pilegesh article: "I don't want to marry the kind of human garbage I got divorced from. I want a stable, happy, un-abusive man. Those men are usually already married. I can tolerate polygamy. I can't tolerate taking the risk of marrying another abusive man who won't pay another ketubah." I do empathize with the distress and frustration in marriage that you express, and I understand that after suffering it takes a long time to be comforted. Therefore, it may take time to build up enough trust to take the steps to seek a healthy remarriage. However, like myself, I am sure you know of women who successfully managed to get out of an abusive marriage, and who now are happily remarried to and un-abusive man. "The main thing is not to give up" and settle for less. In spite of all the suffering during the darkness of exile, we need to work on strengthening our emunah every day, to believe that in spite of the punishments, G-d will never ever cast the Jewish people completely away. Hashem will indeed redeem us soon, and renew His marriage to Israel, His one and only people.