Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Rebbetzin's Torahs by the Parsha

NEW! All Rebbetzin's commentaries for each parsha - in a click!

The Book of Bereshit

Parashat Bereshit
Parsha Meditation: Calling out to G-d for the Hidden Light  
Haftorah Commentary: The Holy Women who Protect Israel
Nature in the Parsha: Life Lessons from the Shemittah (Sabbatical) Year
Lessons from the Rebbetzin’s Heart: Taking Responsibility for our Actions
Ask the Rebbetzin! Why is Eve Created from Adam?

Parashat Noach
Parsha Meditation:  Building Our Personal Sacred Space
Haftorah Commentary:  Parshat Noach and Blessing in Disguise 
Nature in the Parsha: The Dove and the Olive Leaf
Lessons from the Rebbetzin’s Heart: The Human ‘Group Animals’

Ask the Rebbetzin! Who Was Noach’s Wife?

Lessons from the Rebbetzin’s Heart: My Journey Back HomeAsk the Rebbetzin! Why is only Sarah Judged for Laughing?

Parashat Vayera
Parsha Meditation: An Opening for Healing Revelation
Haftorah Commentary: The Power of Women’s Emunah
Nature in the Parsha: Avraham’s Hospitality Tree
Lessons from the Rebbetzin’s Heart: Why Don’t Anyone Laugh Anymore?Ask the Rebbetzin! Do Women Need to Serve Their Husbands?

Parashat Toldot
Parsha Meditation: Revealing the Well of Living Waters Within
Haftorah Commentary: The “Esavs” and the “Ya’acovs” of Today
Nature in the Parsha: Re-digging the Wells of Tradition
Lessons from the Rebbetzin’s Heart: Can Sibling Rivalry be Repaired?
Ask the Rebbetzin! Is Antoninus a True Convert?

Parashat Vayetze
Parsha Meditation: Stepping Inwards on the Ladder of Ascent
Haftorah Commentary: Ya’acov’s Toil to Deserve His Wives
Nature in the Parsha: The Secret of the Dudaim Deal
Lessons from the Rebbetzin’s Heart: Sister-Heart Protects the People of Israel

Ask the Rebbetzin! How Could Ya’acov Marry Two Sisters?
** SPECIAL AUDIO RECORDING: The Secret of the Dudaim **

Parashat Vayishlach
Parsha Meditation: Alone with Your Soul
Haftorah Commentary: The Secret Power of Shema Yisrael
Nature in the Parsha: The Weeping Oak
Lessons from the Rebbetzin’s Heart: Dealing with Death

Ask the Rebbetzin! Did Dinah Fall in Love with the Prince of Shechem?

Parashat Vayeshev
Parsha Meditation: Tuning into our Dreams, Visions & Aspirations
Haftorah Commentary: Sisterly Sensitivity
Nature in the Parsha: The Grapevine Dream
Lessons from the Rebbetzin’s Heart: Does the Torah have clear Parameters for Relationships?

Ask the Rebbetzin! Why Did Ya’acov Give Yosef a Special Coat and What Kind of Coat was It?

Parashat Miketz
Parsha Meditation: Igniting the Darkest Shadow sides of your Soul
Haftorah Commentary: Sing and Rejoice, Daughter of Zion!
Nature in the Parsha: The Menorah Shaped Sheaves
Lessons from the Rebbetzin’s Heart: Do We Need to Make our Dreams Come True?

Ask the Rebbetzin! Can You Help Me Understand My Dream?

Parashat Vayigash
Parsha Meditation: Reaching the Meeting Point of Contention
Haftorah Commentary: The Path to Peace and Redemption
Nature in the Parsha: Shepherding: The Traditional Jewish Vocation
Lessons from the Rebbetzin’s Heart: Do We Need Full-time Learning Yeshiva Boys?

Ask the Rebbetzin! How can I Forgive My Sisters?

Parashat Vayechi
Parsha Meditation: Shema Yisrael – Unifying at Heart
Haftorah Commentary: The Bridge Between Life and Death
Nature in the Parsha: The Deer Sent Forth
Lessons from the Rebbetzin’s Heart: The Blessings of Rebuke

Ask the Rebbetzin! Why Do We Bless Our Sons to be Like Ephraim and Menashe?

The Book of Shemot
Parashat Shemot
Parsha Meditation: The Five Leaved Bush of Light
Haftorah Commentary: On the Verge of Redemption
Nature in the Parsha: The Burning Bramble Bush
Lessons from the Rebbetzin’s Heart: How Do We Strengthen our Emunah in the Hope of Fruitfulness?

Ask the Rebbetzin! Why is Our Greatest Prophet Called Moshe?

Parashat Va'era
Parsha Meditation: Unblocking Hashem’s Voice Within
Haftorah Commentary: Our Actions Today Empower the Future
Nature in the Parsha: The Late Blooming Grain
Lessons from the Rebbetzin’s Heart: The Challenge of Communication

Ask the Rebbetzin!  Why is Listening so Important in the Torah?

Parashat Bo
Parsha Meditation: Eradicating our Deepest Fears
Haftorah Commentary: Hashem’s Feminine In-dwelling Presence
Lessons from the Rebbetzin’s Heart: Is there any Spiritual Difference between Jew and Gentile?

Ask the Rebbetzin! Why Do We Need a Mezuzah?

Parashat Beshalach
Parsha Meditation: Eating in Holiness – A Preparation for Receiving Torah
Haftorah Commentary: Devorah: "A Woman of Flames"
Nature in the Parsha: The Bitter Tree Sweetener
Lessons from the Rebbetzin’s Heart: Miracles, Money Matters, Manna and Emunah
Tu B'Shevat: The Holiday of Redemption

Ask the Rebbetzin! Can a Woman Play Music with Men?

Parashat Yitro
Parsha Meditation: The Tree of Love
Nature in the Parsha: The Mountain – A Window to Heaven
Lessons from the Rebbetzin’s Heart: How do we Know that the Torah is True?

Ask the Rebbetzin! Why Do Jews Claim to be the Chosen People?

Parashat Mishpatim
Parsha Meditation: Transforming Pain to Become a Source of Joy
Haftorah: Overcoming Negative Patterns and Addiction
Nature in the Parsha: The Sabbatical Year & Blessings of Redemption
Lessons from the Rebbetzin’s Heart: Does the Torah Look at Women as Sex Objects?

Ask the Rebbetzin!  Is it Permitted to Gaze at the Moon?

Parashat Terumah

Parashat Tetzaveh

Parashat Ki Tisa

Parashat Vayakhel

Parashat Pekudei

The Book of Vayikra
Parashat Vayikra
Parashat Tzav
Parashat Shemini
Parashat Tazria
Parashat Metzora
Shabbat Pesach
Parashat Acharei Mot
Parashat Kedoshim
Parashat Emor
Parashat Behar
Parashat Bechukotai

The Book of Bamidbar
Parashat Bamidbar
Parashat Naso
Parashat Beha’alotcha
Parashat Shlach L’chah
Parashat Korach
Parashat Chukat
Parashat Balak
Parashat Pinchas
Parashat Matot
Parashat Masai

The Book of Devarim
Parashat Devarim

Parashat Va’etchanan
Parashat Eikev
Parashat Re’eh
Parashat Shoftim
Parashat Ki Tetze
Parashat Ki Tavo
Parashat Nitzavim
Parashat Vayelech
Parashat Ha'azinu
Parashat V’Zot Ha’Bracha

Is it Permitted to Gaze at the Moon?

Ask the Rebbetzin! - Parashat Mishpatim

Shalom Rebbetzin Chana Bracha,
My husband has told me that according to the Talmud, it is not good to look at the moon. He didn’t know the reason. If you could touch on this, I’d be very interested. Thank you for your understanding.
Wendy Shulman (name changed)

Dear Wendy,
I know the moon is so beautiful and that it is hard not to gaze at its soft glowing light. The rainbow is even more special yet, we are also not allowed to stare at it. It is hard to understand why the Torah prevents us from deriving pleasure from Hashem’s most stunning creations. Judaism teaches the importance of enjoying the beautiful world that Hashem created for us. Could it really be forbidden to look at the moon and at the rainbow? What in the world would be a reason for that?

Who Can Gaze at The Shechinah and Live?
First of all, it is not completely prohibited to look at the moon and the rainbow. If it was, how would one be able to sanctify the new moon or recite the blessing on the rainbow? There is a difference between looking and gazing. The definition of gazing is to consciously focus attention and derive enjoyment or satisfaction from what we see. The Talmud warns us against gazing at the rainbow for our own protection:
תלמוד בבלי מסכת חגיגה דף טז/א
כָּל הַמִּסִתַּכֵּל בִּשְׁלֹשָׁה דְּבָרִים - עֵינָיו כָּהוֹת - בַּקֶשֶׁת, וּבְנָשִׂיא, וּבַכֹּהֲנִים. ,בַּקֶּשֶׁת’ - דִּכְתִיב, (שם א) "כְּמַרְאֶה הַקֶּשֶׁת אֲשֶׁר יִהְיֶה בֶעָנָן וְגוֹ’, בְּנָּשִׂיא’ - דִּכְתִיב, (במדבר כּז) "וְנָתַתָּ מֵהוֹדְךָ עָלָיו". ,בַּכֹּהֲנִים’ - בִּזְמַן שֶׁבֵּית הַמִּקְדָשׁ קָיָּים, בְּשָׁעָה שֶׁעוֹלִין לַדּוּכָן וּמְבַרְכִין אֵת הָעַם בַּשֵּׁם הַמְּפוֹרָשׁ.
All who stare at three things, his eyes are dimmed: At the rainbow, at the Nasi (prince) and at the kohanim. At the rainbow, as it is written, “As the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud in the day of rain... this was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of Hashem.” At the Nasi, as it is written, “You shall put from Your honor upon him (Bamidbar 27:2). One who looks at the kohanim [his eyes would dim], at the time that the Temple was standing, when they would stand on their platform and bless Israel with the Holy Name (Babylonian Talmud, Chagigah 16a).

Maharal explains that these three things embody the likeness and the rays of the Shechinah. There is a tradition that gazing at the likeness or the rays of the Shechinah causes the eyes to be dimmed. If a person gazes at the actual Shechinah, he is unable to live- as it states, “…For a person may not see Me and live” (Shemot 33:20). However, looking only at the likeness or rays of the Shechinah does not cause death, but dims the eyes, which is compared to death (Maharal, Chidushei Aggadot, Chagigah).

Looking at the Moon in Halacha
The Talmud does not record a prohibition of staring at the moon, but some well-respected Kabbalists, write: “Just as it is prohibited to gaze at a rainbow it is prohibited to gaze at the moon” (Sefer Chareidim 45:5; Sefer Shoshan Sodot). According to Kabbalah, it is just as harmful to gaze at the moon as it is to gaze at a rainbow (Sefer Ta’amei haMinhagim, Kuntres Achron to Siman 464:22). “Gazing at the moon” is enumerated in the Vidui version (confession) of Rabbeinu Avraham, father of the Shlah HaKadosh, among the sins that a person needs to do Teshuva.  There are various opinions whether it is permitted to look at the moon during the monthly ritual of Kidush Levana (sanctifying the new moon). The Mishna Berura brings three views. According to the first view, which is what most people do, it is permitted to look at the moon until one completes the entire ritual. However, Sefer Chareidim permits looking at the moon for only the duration of the recital of the first blessing. The Magen Avraham, in the name of the Shelah HaKodesh ,goes even further to permit one to only glance at the moon for a brief moment prior to reciting the blessing (Mishna Berura, Siman 426).

The Diminishment of the Moon Reflects the Exile of the Shechinah
There is an inherent connection between the moon and the kingdom of the house of David. Therefore, we recite “David, Melech Yisrael chai v’kayam” during Kiddush Levana. The Jewish people are compared to the moon, which waxes and wanes. Just as the light of the moon in the future will be renewed to become like the light of the sun, so will Israel return to cleave to Hashem (Shulchan Aruch OC 426:2). The moon was originally the same size as the sun – “G-d made the two great luminaries” (Bereishit 1:16). Due to the moon’s complaint, that two kings cannot share one crown, G-d told the moon to make itself small (Babylonian Talmud, Chulin 60b). The diminishment of the moon reflects the exile of the Shechinah, which resulted in the imperfection of the world and the splitting of the kingdom of David. The dim light of the moon symbolizes that Hashem’s Divine Shechinah is not fully revealed in this world. This is because the world is not yet ready to receive the perpetual light of the Shechinah in all of its brightness. Since the diminishment of the moon, there has been a flaw in creation, and this is why we experience ups and downs in the history of our people as well as in our personal lives. Gazing at the moon could therefore symbolize blatantly looking down at the broken world without being able to rise above this imperfection. This is similar to when Lot’s wife looked at the destruction of Sodom and turned into a pillar of salt, because she didn’t merit to be saved while gazing at the destruction.

Staring at the Divine Reflection within the Physical World
Likewise, the rainbow symbolizes Hashem’s covenant to never make another flood- even should we deserve it. When we see a rainbow, it reminds us that we indeed deserve another flood, but Hashem is faithful to His covenant. To stare at the rainbow would then be chutzpah, as if we don’t care that we may deserve a flood. Staring at the moon would also be considered insolence since the moon is embarrassed that it is still so small, and that we have not yet perfected ourselves to enable its light to grow equal to the sun’s. In addition, both the moon and the rainbow reveal Hashem’s Shechinah, and it is not respectful to Hashem to stare at His reflection Therefore staring at the rainbow is considered as not giving honor to Creator (Babylonian Talmud, Chagiga 16a). The Shechinah is on a very high level, and therefore, we are not on the level to stare at it from within our own mundane reality. Rashi explains in Parashat Mishpatim, that Nadav and Avihu stared at Elokim while eating and drinking.

ספר שמות פרק כד (י) וַיִּרְאוּ אֵת אֱלֹהֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וְתַחַת רַגְלָיו כְּמַעֲשֵׂה לִבְנַת הַסַּפִּיר וּכְעֶצֶם הַשָּׁמַיִם לָטֹהַר: (יא) וְאֶל אֲצִילֵי בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל לֹא שָׁלַח יָדוֹ וַיֶּחֱזוּ אֶת הָאֱלֹהִים וַיֹּאכְלוּ וַיִּשְׁתּוּ:
“They saw the G*d of Israel; and under His feet was like sapphire brickwork and the likeness of the heavens for clearness. He [G*d] did not lay His hand on the nobles of Israel, although they beheld G*d while eating and drinking” (Shemot 24:10-11). 

By stating that G-d did not slay them, the Torah implies that they deserved to be slain, because they gazed at the Shechinah while being involved with physical eating and drinking (Rashi). In our lower world, there is still a discrepancy between the physical and the spiritual. Similarly, the moon also embodies the discrepancy between ‘light’ and ‘vessels’ – the Garden of Eden and this lower world we live in. In the future, the light of the moon will grow big like the sun (Yesha’yahu 30:26). At that time, B”H, we will no longer be prohibited from gazing at the moon. Rather we will have reached a level where we will be able to rejoice and bask in its light!

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Ask the Rebbetzin!

Rebbetzin Chana Bracha offers to answer your Torah questions and issues on any topic. The questions and answers will then be posted anonymously on her blog. Please email your questions to with the subject line Ask the Rebbetzin!

The Book of Bereshit
Parashat Bereshit: Why is Eve Created from Adam?
Parashat Noach: Who Was Noach’s Wife?
Parashat Toldot: Is Antoninus a True Convert?
Parashat Vayigash: How can I Forgive My Sisters?

The Book of Shemot
Parashat Shemot: Why is Our Greatest Prophet Called Moshe?
Parashat Va'era: Why is Listening so Important in the Torah?
Parashat Bo: Why Do We Need a Mezuzah?
Parashat Beshalach: Can a Woman Play Music with Men?
Parashat Yitro: Why Do Jews Claim to be the Chosen People?
Parashat Mishpatim: Is it Permitted to Gaze at the Moon?
Parashat Terumah: 
Parashat Tetzaveh: 
Parashat Ki Tisa:
Parashat Vayakhel:
Parashat Pekudei:

The Book of Vayikra
Parashat Vayikra: 
Parashat Tzav: 
Parashat Shemini: 
Parashat Tazria: 
Parashat Metzora: 
Shabbat Pesach: 
Parashat Acharei Mot: 
Parashat Kedoshim: 
Parashat Emor: 
Parashat Behar: 
Parashat Bechukotai: 

The Book of Bamidbar
Parashat Bamidbar: 
Parashat Naso:
Parashat Beha’alotcha: 
Parashat Shlach L’chah: 
Parashat Korach:
Parashat Chukat:
Parashat Balak: 
Parashat Pinchas: 
Parashat Matot: 
Parashat Masai:

The Book of Devarim
Parashat Devarim: 

Parashat Va’etchanan: 
Parashat Eikev: 
Parashat Re’eh: 
Parashat Shoftim:
Parashat Ki Tetze: 
Parashat Ki Tavo: 
Parashat Nitzavim: 
Parashat Vayelech: 
Parashat Ha'azinu: 
Parashat V’Zot Ha’Bracha

Monday, February 13, 2017

Why Do Jews Claim to be the Chosen People?

Ask the Rebbetzin – Parashat Yitro
Printable Version

Dear Rebbetzin,
The notion that the Jews are G-d’s chosen people has always bothered me. It seems to me spiritual snobbism – holding oneself to be greater than others. Considering ourselves to be better than others also arouses needless anti-Semitism. G-d created many nations in the world. Doesn’t He love each of them equally, just as good parents are expected to love all their children the same? Why would our Creator show favoritism?
Sigalit Richman (name changed)

Dear Sigalit,
Alumnae meeting up in New York on Rebbetzin's tour
I can very much identify with your difficulty with the notion of being ‘G-d’s chosen people.’ When I was a teenager searching for truth, this chosen-people-business appalled me very much about Judaism, and almost prevented me from becoming Torah observant. Often, my students as well, have a hard time with the concept that the Jewish people are supposed to be ‘The Chosen People.’ It is remarkable that the people whom Hashem chose do not desire to be chosen. However, an arrogant nation, who considers themselves to be better than others, would never have been chosen by G-d. The fact that so many Jews are uncomfortable with being ‘the Chosen People,’ ironically, makes them the most suitable candidate for this special role.

A Blessing for the World
Why does G-d need a chosen people? Why does He need any people at all? Hashem created the world in order to share of His goodness. Yet, we are only able to fully enjoy this goodness when we earn it through our own efforts (Derech Hashem, Chapter 1). By following G-d’s instructions, humanity gains the opportunity to earn their well-deserved reward. Yet, Adam and Chava, the very first human beings, disobeyed G-d and thus failed to earn their own goodness. Their descendants did not rise to the occasion of rectifying this original disobedience until Avraham came. He went against his nature to obey G-d’s commands and thereby became a source of blessing for all of humanity, as it states, “In your seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because you have listened to My voice” (Bereishit 22:18). As soon as Avraham followed G-d to an unknown destination, Hashem bequeathed him with the power to bless the world, “Blessings are entrusted to you; until now they were in my power, I blessed Adam and Noach, but from now on you shall bless whomever you wish” (Rashi, Bereishit 12:2). Of Avraham's two sons, Yishmael and Yitzchak, only Yitzchak walked in Avraham’s footsteps. However, Yishmael became a bandit – committing murder, adultery, and idol worship (Rashi, Bereishit 21:9). Subsequently, from Yitzchak’s children, only Ya’acov followed the path of his fathers, whereas, Esav became a murderer (Rashi, Bereishit 25:29). Ya’acov completed the rectification of Adam, (Babylonian Talmud, Baba Batra 58a), and was therefore, the first father whose children were all unblemished and holy (Rashi, Bereishit 35:22). This explains why only Israel is called Adam (Yechezkiel 34:31), as the Talmud comments, “You are Adam, but the other nations are not called Adam” (Babylonian Talmud, Yevamot 61a). The Children of Israel fulfill the purpose of Creation, and therefore, G-d imbued them with the power to elevate and bless the world. This is the meaning of being ‘The Chosen People.’

Teachers of Humanity
The purpose of being ‘Chosen’ is to help and facilitate all of humanity to reach the ultimate purpose of recognizing G-d and following His instructions. Being ‘Chosen’ is therefore more of a responsibility than a privilege. By giving the Torah to the Jewish People, Hashem charged us with the responsibility to become the teachers of humanity. The best teachers facilitate students to attain knowledge on their own. Likewise, the responsibility of Israel is to cause the “world to become filled with the knowledge of Hashem as the waters cover the sea” (Yesha’yahu 11:9). Knowledge of G-d must spur us to listen to Hashem and obey His commands. Due to the merit of Avraham’s obedience, the Jewish people inherit the capacity for listening to G-d. This is the main reason why Hashem chose Israel to receive His Torah and become His treasured people.

ספר שמות פרק יט (ה) וְעַתָּה אִם שָׁמוֹעַ תִּשְׁמְעוּ בְּקֹלִי וּשְׁמַרְתֶּם אֶת בְּרִיתִי וִהְיִיתֶם לִי סְגֻלָּה מִכָּל הָעַמִּים כִּי לִי כָּל הָאָרֶץ:
“Now therefore, if you will obey My voice indeed, and keep My covenant, then you shall be Mine own treasure above all the peoples: for all the earth is Mine” (Shemot 19:5).

Chosen to Serve
This world is a world of hierarchy. Within the Jewish people there is a threefold hierarchy: Yisrael, Levi, Kohen. A Kohen is called up first to the Torah in the Synagogue. Yet, I never heard anyone being uncomfortable with the chosenness of the Kohen. The Kohen is chosen to serve in the Temple. By offering sacrifices on behalf of the world, he brings not only the Jewish people but also the entire world, closer to G-d. “Sacrifice” in Hebrew is called קָרְבָּן /korban from the language of קָרוֹב /karov, which means close. The word כהן/Kohen actually means to serve and is so used even in Modern Hebrew, as for example, “I served as a Rabbi…” The role of the Kohen within the Jewish community directly parallels the role of the Jewish people in the world. In fact, in the Torah verse, which follows directly after the one, quoted above, Hashem calls the Jewish people a “Kingdom of Kohanim:”

ספר שמות פרק יט (ו) וְאַתֶּם תִּהְיוּ לִי מַמְלֶכֶת כֹּהֲנִים וְגוֹי קָדוֹשׁ אֵלֶּה הַדְּבָרִים אֲשֶׁר תְּדַבֵּר אֶל בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל:
“You shall be to Me a kingdom of kohanim (priests), and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the children of Israel” (Shemot 19:6)

Thus, being ‘Chosen’ doesn’t necessarily mean being better than others. Rather, the Jewish people are chosen to serve humanity, in the same way that the Kohen is chosen to serve in the Temple. Just as a teacher serves his or her students by helping them to reach their potential, so are we Jews called upon to serve humanity and help them reach their potential. We are not chosen to disparage non-Jewish people, but rather, to do our job to the best of our ability, even if it sometimes entails cleaning up everyone’s mess. Didn’t the Kohen have to clean up the ashes in the Temple?

Life Lessons from the Rebbetzin’s Heart

As we begin a new cycle of Weekly Torah readings, I thought this year to do something very different; to share with you concepts from my heart, issues and matters that I care deeply about, that I will try to tie to each of the weekly Torah portions.

The Book of Bereshit
Parashat Bereshit: Taking Responsibility for our Actions and their Effect
Parashat Noach: The Human ‘Group Animals’
Parashat Lech Lecha: My Journey Back Home
Parashat Vayishlach: Dealing with Death
Parashat Vayechi: The Blessings of Rebuke

The Book of Shemot
Parashat Shemot: How Do We Strengthen our Emunah in the Hope of Fruitfulness?
Parashat Va'era: The Challenge of Communication
Parashat Bo: Is there any Spiritual Difference between Jew and Gentile?
Parashat Beshalach: Miracles, Money Matters, Manna and Emunah
Parashat Yitro: How do we Know that the Torah is True?
Parashat Mishpatim: Does the Torah Look at Women as Sex Objects?
Parashat Terumah: To Give or not to Give?
Parashat Tetzaveh: Do We Need to Wear Black Polyester Skirts for Modesty?
Parashat Ki Tisa: What is the Difference between Spirituality and Holiness?
Parashat Vayakhel: Shabbat Guides for the Meticulous Woman
Parashat Pekudei: Tribal Gemstones

The Book of Vayikra
Parashat Vayikra: Picking Up Hashem’s Calls even in the Taxi
Parashat Tzav: The Poor Man’s Offering
Parashat Shemini: When EmunaHealers and Shamanic Hebrew Priestesses Meet
Parashat Tazria: Time to Clean Up Our Speech
Parashat Metzora: Spiritual Spring Cleaning
Shabbat Pesach: Pesach – The Holiday for Extended Family Celebration
Parashat Acharei Mot: Pesach – Living by the Law of Covering our Nakedness
Parashat Kedoshim: Coming Out of Pesach and Keeping the Flames of Holiness Burning
Parashat Emor: The Controversy of Women and Counting the Omer
Parashat Behar: Why We Deserve This Land
Parashat Bechukotai: In Which World Do We Receive Our Ultimate Reward?

The Book of Bamidbar
Parashat Bamidbar: The Brotherhood of Physical and Spiritual Warfare
Parashat Naso: Turning Competition and Jealousy into Unity and Peace
Parashat Beha’alotcha: Turning Our Sparks into Flames that Keeps Burning By Themselves
Parashat Shlach L’chah: Trusting in Hashem’s Protection “Under the Vine and Under the Fig-Tree”
Parashat Korach: Past Life Regression and Korach’s Soul Rectification
Parashat Chukat: Does Juice Fasting Help Maintain Health and Alleviate Cravings?
Parashat Balak: Do Our Eyes Have Power to Effect Reality?
Parashat Pinchas: Does Pinchas Serve as a Model for ‘Price-tag’ Activism?
Parashat Matot: The Vows of Vegetarianism and Peace
Parashat Masai: Appreciating Our Promised Land

The Book of Devarim
Parashat Devarim: 
The Blessings of Rebuke
Parashat Va’etchanan: Do We Need to Make a Favorable Impression on the Gentiles?
Parashat Eikev: How Does the Torah Require Us to Treat Converts?
Parashat Re’eh: Was Jesus a Kind Spiritual Healer or a False Prophet?
Parashat Shoftim: Fostering Fruit Friendships
Parashat Ki Tetze: Whom Do we Benefit by Dressing Modestly?
Parashat Ki Tavo: Why Do We Need to Tithe the Produce of the Holy Land?
Parashat Nitzavim: Returning to the Root of Our Existence
Parashat Vayelech: What is the Purpose of the Aging Process?
Parashat Ha'azinu: Why Did Our Parents Leave the Path?
Parashat V’Zot Ha’BrachaThe Blessings of Blessing

Monday, February 6, 2017

Can a Woman Play Music with Men?

Ask the Rebbetzin - Parashat BeShalach
Printable Version

Dear Rebbetzin,
Is it a good thing for a Jewish woman to play music on a fiddle or other instruments?
   A. If so, in which kind of situations should she play? (Only at home, or even in public? Only with other women present, or both women and men, or only with immediate family present? May she play music only with other women or also in a group with men? )
   B. What kind of music should a Jewish woman play? Should it be only Jewish music or is Irish or old-time fiddle or classical music good to play?
   C. Is it a good idea to teach music and if so would it be only to girls, only to other Jews, or could she also teach non-Jews?
   D. Which kind of music would be ok to teach?
   E. What about teaching violin according to the Suzuki Method?
The questions seem complicated to me since music comes from many sources and has such a spiritual effect. There are also tzniut and yichud issues. A music student may be in situations that would not be right for a Jew to be in, such as playing in mixed orchestras etc. If you can help me with these questions, it will be much appreciated. Thank you for your help.
A female musician – Miriam Shiransky (name changed)

Dear Female Musician, Miriam,
I believe that it is wonderful for a Jewish woman to play any kind of music and whatever kinds of instrument(s) she enjoys because music is a way to express the neshamah (soul). It helps both oneself and the listener to get in touch with their spirituality and connect with Hashem. “Why were the Levites selected to sing in the Temple? Because the name Levi means cleaving. The soul of one who heard their singing at once cleaved to G-d” (Zohar 2:19a). We, moreover, learn about the centrality of music in the Torah from this week’s parasha’s Song of the Sea.

Women Praise Hashem with Drums and Dance
Parashat B’Shalach teaches us that Jewish women have a special connection to music. Whereas both the Israelite men and women sang praises to Hashem for their delivery from the Egyptian slavery and the miracle of the splitting of the sea, only the women played instruments and danced.

ספר שמות פרק טו (כ) וַתִּקַּח מִרְיָם הַנְּבִיאָה אֲחוֹת אַהֲרֹן אֶת הַתֹּף בְּיָדָהּ וַתֵּצֶאןָ כָל הַנָּשִׁים אַחֲרֶיהָ בְּתֻפִּים וּבִמְחֹלֹת :(כא) וַתַּעַן לָהֶם מִרְיָם שִׁירוּ לַהָשֵׁם...

“Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a tambourine in her hand; and all the women went out after her with tambourines, dancing. And Miriam answered them, ‘Sing to Hashem…’” (Shemot 15:20-21).

Our redemption was in the merit of the women, who recognized the importance of praising Hashem with music, and therefore packed these tambourines, despite the rush of the Exodus. “In the merit of the righteous women of that generation, our forefathers were redeemed from Egypt” (Babylonian Talmud, Sotah 11b). It was their strong emunah that the Holy One, Blessed be He, would make miracles for them, that prompted the righteous women of that generation to prepare tambourines and dances (Rashi, Shemot 15:20). Under the leadership of Miriam, the women accompanied their praises to Hashem with drums and dances, and thereby merited to receive the highest level of prophesy (Mechilta, Beshalach 3).

May Women Sing with Men?
Since music is so central to Judaism and in particular to Jewish women, we must find creative ways so that Torah observant women’s musical talents do not get stifled by concerns of modesty. From the Song of the Sea, we learn about the separation between men and women during their music and song. Moshe led the men in song, whereas Miriam led the women. However, the issue is not clear cut, as our Haftorah records that Devorah, the prophetess, sang a song of praise to Hashem together with Barak, the son of Avinoam (Shoftim 5:1). According to the simple reading of the text, Devorah was married to Lapidot and not Barak. The Talmud teaches, “Kol Isha ervah” – the voice of a woman is nakedness (Babylonian Talmud, Berachot 24a). Consequently, the Shulchan Aruch rules that men are prohibited from hearing women sing except for their immediate family (Orach Chaim 75:3). This doesn’t imply that women are forbidden from singing. There are plenty of opportunities to sing with and for women as well as children, who after all, comprise more than half the world’s population. When it comes to singing zemirot at the Shabbat table, there are different opinions. The Talmud states that two voices cannot be heard simultaneously (Babylonian Talmud, Megillah 21b). This statement is the basis for the lenient opinion that the Kol Isha prohibition does not apply to two or more women singing together. There is also a leniency in regards to singing zemirot, singing songs to children, and lamentations for the dead, since in these contexts men do not derive pleasure from the woman’s voice (Divrei Cheifetz). Based on this opinion, women do sing together in the presence of men at our Shabbat table- albeit not at the top of their lungs.

May a Woman Play Music with Men?
A. There is only a halachic issue for women to refrain from singing in the presence of men and boys above the age of nine. I am not aware of any halachic prohibition for a woman to play music without singing in the presence of men. Whether it is recommended for a Jewish woman to play in front of men, or even together with men depends on the situation and the minhag (custom) of the community. I, personally, do not play guitar in the presence of men, here, in Bat Ayin, but I will play my guitar to accompany my extended family at our annual Chanukah party, when they sing Chanukah songs. Playing together in a group with men, could entail a non-tzniut, intimate setting. I would not play together with another man expect in a family situation, for example, with my nephew in his mother’s presence. However, professional musicians, who play in big orchestras where there are both men and women playing is not an intimate setting, and may be ok. Any questionable situation should be presented to a competent rabbi.

Which Kind of Music is Suitable to Play and to Whom May a Jewish Woman Teach Music?
B. Regarding the kind of music to play, I would recommend Jewish music, especially Chassidic nigunim. However, non-Jewish music, such as classical and folk music, may also have sparks of holiness that can be elevated when we play them for the sake of Hashem. One of my favorite, non-Jewish songs is Stairway to Heaven, by Led Zeppelin, played on the harp. Although there are no explicit rules, I do believe that we must be careful with what music we play and hear. Rebbe Nachman explains that if we hear music from a musician who is not pure, but mainly intends to gratify his ego and make money can actually harm our service of Hashem. Yet, hearing music from a kosher musician benefits our service of Hashem (Kitzur Likutei Mohoran 3).

C. I do not believe that there is any prohibition for a woman to teach music to men as long as it does not violate the laws of yichud (seclusion). However, customs vary in different communities. In our community of Bat Ayin, we hold that a woman may teach women and girls of all ages and boys until the age of Bar mitzvah. Yet, she cannot sing in front of a boy older than nine. My son had several female piano teachers when he was a young boy. While teaching a boy between the ages of 9-12, the woman teacher must adhere to the laws of yichud, and preferably teach during the day hours, when other people may pop in.

D. Whichever music is ok to play is ok to teach. (See my answer on B.)

E. I think the Suzuki method of teaching is a wonderful way that a mother can bond with her child. It all depends on the interest of the child and the family situation.

Music Makes Plants Grow and Brings Sustenance
The kind of music that we need to play depends on the kind of plants that grow in our land. According to Rabbi Nachman, there is a symbiotic relationship between our plants and our music. The specific kind of music that we play is made from the melody of the plants that grows in our place while our musical melodies also cause the plants to grow. Each place has a different melody, and there is a special melody for the land of Israel. Ya’acov intuitively knew that Yosef’s melody was the melody of the land of Israel, since he was going to sustain the children of Israel. This is why he sent him, “from the זִּמְרַת/zimrat – melody of the Land- in your vessels” (Bereishit 43:11). Because each plant has a specific song in Perek Shira, it has a particular melody that helps it grow. Our holy ancestors were sheepherders who empowered the plants to grow by playing the melody of the plants of their place. Great leaders are in tune with the melodies of the plants of their place, since it is their responsibility to bring down sustenance to their people. Each leader has a melody that pertains to him and the people he sustains (Likutei Moharan, Mahadura Batra 63).

Music Brings About the Mashiach
Integrating music and song into the Torah experience is a very powerful tool in bringing people back to the Torah way of life. Through singing nigunim, playing music and participating in drumming workshops, we can attain a feeling of closeness with Hashem and restore emotional attachment to Torah observance. Musicians that study Torah can elevate people and raise them from their normal state of consciousness through music. “Had Chezkiyahu recited song at the downfall of Sancheriv, he would have become the King Mashiach, and Sancheriv would have been Gog and Magog. However, he did not do so...” (Midrash Song of Songs Rabbah 4:20). Through the aspect of melodies and tunes – the aspect of Azamra – I will sing praises, the Mashiach of the G-d of Ya’acov and the Sweet Singer of Israel will come, may it be soon! (Likutei Halachot, Orach Chaim, Laws of Waking up in the Morning 1). So let us follow in the footsteps of Miriam, our teacher and role model, and let us dance our way towards the Mashiach with our soulful music and song!

Monday, January 30, 2017

Why Do We Need a Mezuzah?

Ask the Rebbetzin - Parshat Bo
Printable Version

Dear Rebbetzin,
I’ve recently become observant and realize that I need to get mezuzot for my home. I was just wondering, why we need these mezuzot, what is in them and what do they do?
Shoshanna Miller (name changed)

Dear Shoshanna,
I love when I get questions like yours. When one has been Torah observant for a long time, there is a tendency to take the mitzvot for granted and forget about why we do them. Although I’m a ba’alat teshuva like you, I grew up with one mezuzah on the front door of my parents’ home. It is very small, and whenever I visit, I wonder if it is even kosher. In our own home in Israel, in accordance with my husband’s research and rabbinical guidance, we have a mezuzah for every single room (except for the bathrooms) including the archway that separates the kitchen from the dining room and, surprisingly enough, even the chicken coop. Our mezuzot are placed on the right side of the door, in the upper third of the doorpost. Some people may think that a beautiful mezuzah cover is all there is to the mezuzah, not realizing that it’s just a cover. Yet, the main thing is what is inside. What is actually written inside the mezuzah and why is it so important for every Jewish home?

Guardian of the Doorways of Israel
‘Mezuzah’ refers to the parchment scroll within the cover, on which the Shema – the declaration of the oneness of G‑d, with its two following paragraphs are handwritten by an expert scribe (Devarim 6: 4‑9 and Devarim 11: 13-21). Perhaps, you have noticed the three Hebrew letters on the mezuzah cover: ש/shin, ד/dalet and י/yud. These letters are also written on the reverse side of the parchment, which may appear through a transparent cover. These three letters spell out a name of G-d ש-די/Sha-dai, which is an acronym for שומר דלתות ישראל /Shomer delatot Yisrael – “Guardian of the doorways of Israel,” which signifies that the mezuzah channels G‑d’s watchful supervision over the home, and excludes the negative forces of the other side from entering the home. Everything open needs guarding. When we merit, the name, Shadai dwells upon us and protects us. Placing a mezuzah on the doors of a home or office protects the inhabitants – whether they are inside or outside. The mezuzah helps us to connect ourselves with holiness when we come and go. It is a righteous custom to kiss the mezuzah every time we come and go, in order to remind ourselves that Hashem is our Creator (Hanhagot Hatzadikim, Rabbi Shlomo Baruch of Budapest). Moreover, when we enter our home, the mezuzah reminds us to avoid anger, quarrel and additional negative behavior. When we leave our home, the mezuzah reminds us to curb our egotism in dealing with our fellow-creatures, and avoid being rude, whether at home or in our workplace (Rabbi Gedalia ben Isaac of Lunietz).

A Jewish Home – Dedicated to Serving G-d
A mezuzah at the doorway signifies a Jewish home dedicated to Hashem and separated from the gentile environment. The first time mezuzot are mentioned in the Torah is in Parashat Bo, when the Israelites were instructed to smear some of the blood of the Pesach lamb on the doorposts:

ספר שמות פרק יב פסוק ז וְלָקְחוּ מִן הַדָּם וְנָתְנוּ עַל שְׁתֵּי הַמְּזוּזֹת וְעַל הַמַּשְׁקוֹף עַל הַבָּתִּים אֲשֶׁר יֹאכְלוּ אֹתוֹ בָּהֶם:
“They shall take of the blood, and put it on the two side-posts and on the lintel, upon the houses wherein they shall eat it” (Shemot 12:7).

The slaughtering of the sheep was a statement of the separation from the Egyptians, who worshipped sheep. Engaging in such a ‘provocative’ act, right under the noses of the Egyptians, certainly required protection from their hostility.

Emblem of Our Redemption
Further on in Parashat Bo, right before the last plague of the firstborn, the Israelites were instructed once again about the mezuzot. They were to take a bunch of hyssop dipped in blood and use it as a paintbrush to mark their homes:

ספר שמות פרק יב (כב-כד) וּלְקַחְתֶּם אֲגֻדַּת אֵזוֹב וּטְבַלְתֶּם בַּדָּם אֲשֶׁר בַּסַּף וְהִגַּעְתֶּם אֶל הַמַּשְׁקוֹף וְאֶל שְׁתֵּי הַמְּזוּזֹת מִן הַדָּם אֲשֶׁר בַּסָּף וְאַתֶּם לֹא תֵצְאוּ אִישׁ מִפֶּתַח בֵּיתוֹ עַד בֹּקֶר: (כג) עָבַר הָשֵׁם לִנְגֹּף אֶת מִצְרַיִם וְרָאָה אֶת הַדָּם עַל הַמַּשְׁקוֹף וְעַל שְׁתֵּי הַמְּזוּזֹת וּפָסַח הָשֵׁם עַל הַפֶּתַח וְלֹא יִתֵּן הַמַּשְׁחִית לָבֹא אֶל בָּתֵּיכֶם לִנְגֹּף: (כד) וּשְׁמַרְתֶּם אֶת הַדָּבָר הַזֶּה לְחָק לְךָ וּלְבָנֶיךָ עַד עוֹלָם:

“Take a bunch of hyssop, dip it in the blood that is in the basin, and apply some of the blood that is in the basin to the lintel and to the two mezuzot (doorposts). None of you shall go out of the entrance of the house until morning. For when Hashem passes through to smite the Egyptians; He will see the blood upon the lintel, and the two doorposts, and G-d will pass over the door, and not allow the destroyer to enter your houses to smite you. You shall observe this as an ordinance for you and your descendants forever” (Shemot 12:22-24).

The mezuzah that distinguished between life and death became the emblem of the Jewish people. Just as our redemption culminated with the last plague of the firstborn, it could be said that the mezuzah at the doorpost of the death of the firstborn Egyptians gave birth to the Jewish people. The mezuzah reminds us that in order to break out of the Egyptian exile, we needed the courage to slaughter their ‘god’ and use the life force of its blood for the sake of serving Hashem. The birth of Israel took place specifically at the doorpost to symbolize that the door out of bitter exile had now opened into freedom.­­­