Tuesday, October 28, 2014

From ‘Valley of the Fields’ to the ‘Dead Sea’

Nature in the Parasha: Parashat Lech Lecha
Rebbetzin covered in the healing Dead Sea mud
I’m excited about the opportunity to accompany my husband to a medical conference at the Dead Sea during the week of Parashat Lech Lecha in which the Dead Sea is mentioned. Actually, the Torah never calls this healing lake ‘Dead.’ Its name in the Torah is יָם הַ‏‏מֶּ‏‏לַ‏ח/Yam HaMelach – the ‘Salt Sea.’ Whenever I go away with my husband, it is usually to the Dead Sea, as I love to soak up its healing minerals, both from the salty water, the slimy mud and the healing air. I know many people who soak in the mineral baths of the Dead Sea at the onset of every winter in order to strengthen their immune system against colds and flus. Salt has antiseptic properties, and the Dead Sea is eight times as salty as the oceans. The mineral baths of the Dead Sea are known from ancient times to be exceptionally healing. King Herod made the Dead Sea into one of the world’s first health resorts. Since then the Dead Sea has supplied a wide variety of health products, from balms for Egyptian mummification to minerals for various cosmetics. In Parashat Lech Lecha the Dead Sea is both called the ‘Salt Sea’ (Bereishit 14:3) and the עֵמֶק הַשִּׂדִּים/Emek HaSidim –‘Vale of the Fields’)ibid. 3, 8, 10). Before the destruction of Sodom, this place was one of the most fertile planes in Israel. This is why Lot chose to move there as “he saw that that it was well watered everywhere, before Hashem destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, like the Garden of Hashem, like the land of Egypt, as you come to Zoar” (Bereishit 13:10). Lot had his eye on this fertile land, which he recognized would be excellent for pasture for his increasing flock as it was watered by the natural irrigation from the foot of the Jordan River. This plane was similar to both Egypt, watered by the Nile and the Garden of Eden, which was also naturally irrigated by the river (Bereishit 2:10), (Ramban, Bereishit 13:10). Yet, this same place is also described in this week’s parasha as “full of slime pits,” where the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah got stuck (Bereishit 14:10). Today, the Dead Sea has become a top destination for those seeking healing and peace of mind. It is a restorative therapeutic place for people from all over the planet. At the Dead Sea, I often chance upon groups of Danish people suffering from psoriasis and various other skin disorders, for whom the Danish health insurance subsidize healing treatments at the Dead Sea! I wonder what is the deeper secret of this mysterious lake with a surface and shores of 417.5 m (1369 ft) below sea level, the very deepest lowest land elevation on Earth! Why did the so-called ‘Dead Sea,’ become transformed into one of the greatest life-giving health resort areas in the world?

Emunah from the Slime
Parashat Lech Lecha describes the very the first World War ever, which took place at the Dead Sea. Nimrod who wanted to get back at Avraham for surviving the burning furnace (Targum Yonatan, Bereishit 14:1), mobilized the Four Evil Superpowers against the Five Kings who “set the battle in array against them in the Vale of Siddim (Bereishit 14:8). It is known that מלכות/Malchut – Kingdom is called יָד וָשֵׁם /Yad VaShem – a Hand and a Name (Yesha’yahu 55:5). Corresponding to it in the klipah (impure husk) is עמק השדי"ם/Emek HaShidim – The Vale of the Fields. Within this word are the letters of יָד שֵׁם/Yad Shem (Agra d’Kalah). Among the Five Kings, the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah fled and fell into the slime pits in the Vale of Siddim (ibid. 10). Thereafter, the Four Evil Superpowers took Lot captive in order to drag Avraham into the war (ibid. 12). The evil kings were stuck in the mud of the Dead Sea, because they were engrossed in the muddy material of desires. As a midah c’neged midah – measure for measure they were punished through the muddy material of the slimy pits. In addition, they also descended from the builders of the Tower of Babylon who used clay as building material (Agra d’Kala). There were many pits [at the Dead Sea], from which they took earth as clay for building purposes. The clay was very sticky, so it was only by a miracle that the king of Sodom alone emerged from the slime pits (Bereishit 14:17). Hashem performed this miracle in order to teach emunah to those who did not believe that Avraham had been delivered from Ur-Kashdim – the fiery furnace. As soon as the King of Sodom escaped from the slime in Avraham’s merit they corrected their past disbelief. (Rashi, ibid. 10). So from the impure slime of the Vale of Shiddim, emunah in Hashem is confirmed and strengthened.

The Redeeming Qualities of the Muddy Slime
The victory of the war took place in the Vale of Siddim, the connecting point between the pure and impure wells. Our Fathers would dig wells and wellsprings of holiness from which the rivers and lakes of holiness would derive. Corresponding to these, the mud pits of the Dead Sea represented the impure wells of the nations. These wells where one sinks deep into the material away from the spiritual are the antithesis to the holy wells of Avraham. The Plishtim took dirt to block Avraham’s wells. The salt of the Dead Sea, which derives from these, symbolizes suffering. The purpose of suffering is to preserve the meat, and to attain a good final goal – the conquest of the Evil Kingdoms. Even within the negative muddy, unholy impurity there is the redeeming quality of the challenge that slime and darkness poses in order to activate the hidden holiness. This is why the yetzar hara (evil impulse) is called “very good” (Midrash Bereishit Rabbah 9:7). The word ‘sid’ (from Emek HaSiddim) can also mean plaster, which is necessary for building and strengthening of a home. (Rav Tzaddok of Lublin, Kometz HaMincha 2:36). After conquering the boundaries of evil, Israel merits the boundaries of the Salt Sea. For the Dead Sea is described in the Bible numerous times as forming a boundary of the land of Israel (see Bamidbar 34:3,12, Yehoshua 15:2, 5, 18:19). The boundary of the Sea corresponds to the upper world, and salt symbolizes perseverance (Noam Elimelech).

Transforming the Mud
Even when we are sunken in the material, we can find the innerness of Hashem hidden within it. This is the meaning of וְעֵמֶק הַשִּׂדִּים בֶּאֱרֹת בֶּאֱרֹת חֵמָר/v’Emek HaSidim be’erot be’erot chemar – “the Vale of the Fields were pits and pits of muddy clay” (Bereishit 14:10). Avraham our Father was able to enlighten even the muddy material, this is why it follows that the Vale of the Fields became “the Vale of Shaveh (Straight/equal) – it is the King’s Vale” (ibid 17). This was the special transformative work of our Fathers (Imrei Emet). It is also possible the that repetition of the word ‘pit’ comes to teach us that there are pits in which one sinks perpetually, yet there are other kinds of pits from which it is possible to rise (Siftei Tzedek). The word used for pits in this context is בֶּאֱרֹת/be’erot, which also can mean wells. (It is the latter meaning I intended when naming my Midrasha). Perhaps the word ‘be’erot’ is mentioned twice to allude to the fact that the pits can have two opposing qualities. There are the kinds of ‘be’erot’ through which one sinks and falls, and the other kinds, which one can use to build up. Once the be’er is completely transformed and all the sinking slime becomes purposeful, then the Dead Sea will be healed and once again become one of the most fruitful places in the world. Already in our time people have begun to make the slime and mud of the Dead Sea purposeful. People from all over the world come to take mud baths and receive healing from various ailments. The Dead Sea Ahavah products are exported to most of the Western World.

The Secret Salt Sea Connection
The first time the Dead Sea is mentioned in the Torah is when describing how the Five Kings became connected together in this place, “All these became allies in the Vale of Siddim – this is the Salt Sea” (Bereishit 14:3). They used to be enemies but they made peace between them at the Vale of Siddim, because from there they made plaster for building. It is only after the destruction of Sodom that it turned into a lake, which today is called the Dead Sea (Malbim). The double nature of the Dead Sea is,, furthermore, highlighted by the fact that the very same place where these kingdoms made peace became turned into a battlefield (Abarbanel). We always eat our bread with salt because Kingdom is called Yam HaMelach (the Salt Sea). Salt has rectifying qualities. Without salt many foods would be inedible. It is interesting to note that both לחם/lechem – bread and מלח/melach – salt consist of the same letters, which have the numerical value of 78, exactly three times 26, the numerical value of Hashem’s four-lettered name (Arizal, Sefer Halikutim, Tehillim 36).

The Holy Salt Covenant
Salt is represents of loyalty and friendship. Hashem commands us to include salt in each sacrifice, “You shall season your every offering with salt; you shall not omit from your meal offering the salt of your covenant with G-d; with all your offerings you must offer salt” (Vayikra 2:13). On the second day of Creation G-d separated between the ‘Upper Waters’ and the ‘Lower Waters.’ The Midrash tells us that when this occurred, the Lower Waters wept, “We, too, want to be in the King’s presence.” Therefore, a covenant was made with the salt from the Six Days of Creation. The lower waters was promised to receive an elevation when it would be offered on the altar in the form of salt [derived from the ocean], and during the water sacrifices of Sukkot (Rashi, Vayikra 2:13). Since salt is a preservative, it is naturally a symbolic of an enduring covenant. For example, “Hashem gave kingship over Israel forever – to David and his sons – by the covenant of salt (II Divrei Hayamim 13:4). The sky-blue color of the techelet that reflects the throne of glory corresponds to the Salt Sea. The salt is the holy covenant, and the sea are the different levels that emerge from it, salted with the pure and holy salt (Ma’amarei Rashbi). I remember visiting the techelet factory located in Ma’aleh Adumim on the way to the Dead Sea. There are different opinions in the Talmud about the habitat of the Chilazon snail-fish. According to Rambam the Chilazon is actually found in Yam HaMelach (Laws of Tzitzit 2:2).

Healing the Waters of the Dead Sea
The Dead Sea is a meeting place between good and evil. It is the place of transformation from fertile fields (Emek HaSiddim) to a barren deadly place of void. However, the prophet testifies that this most barren land will one day be completely healed and most fertile of all. “ …The waters shall be healed, every living creature that swarms will be able to live wherever this stream goes. The fish will be very abundant once these waters have reached there. Everything will be healed and live wherever this stream goes. Fishermen shall stand beside it all the way from Ein Gedi to Ein Eglayim; it shall be a place for drying nets; and the fish will be of various kinds and most plentiful like the fish of the Great Sea. Yet, its swamps and marshes shall not be healed; they will serve to supply salt. All kinds of trees for food will grow on both banks of the stream. Their leaves will not wither nor their fruit fail; they will yield new fruit every month, because the water for them flows from the Temple. Their fruit will serve for food, and their leaves for healing” (Yechezkiel 47:8-12). Water symbolize pleasure. There are both physical and spiritual pleasures represented respectively by the ‘Lower Waters’ and the ‘Upper Waters.’ When the ‘Lower Waters’ were separated from the ‘Upper Waters’ during the Second day of Creation, they wept bitterly. These bitter tears became the saltiest of waters – the waters of the Dead Sea. Ultimately, it is our purpose in this world to sweeten and heal the ‘Lower Waters,’ through converting this lowly realm of earthly mundane pleasures into a dwelling place for Hashem. When we complete this mission we will reach the Final Geulah (redemption). Then there no longer will be a dichotomy between the ‘Upper’ and ‘Lower’ Waters. Physical and spiritual pleasures will merge, all the evil kingdoms will be overcome and humanity will rise to a higher level of spiritual sensitivity, which we will be able to infuse within the physical reality. This is the final rectification for eating from the Tree of Knowledge, which caused the original split between Good and Evil, Physical and Spiritual. The healing and sweetening of the salty waters of the Dead Sea is a reflection of the final rectification of all Creation.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Dove and the Olive Leaf

Nature in the Parasha
Parashat Noach

The blessed rain has been falling and cleansed the land for us to happily begin our New Year routine on the freshly washed earth. As we enter Parashat Noach with the Sukkah decorations packed away, we inhale the moist scent of Cheshvan aroused by the after-rain. During this month, the world began anew after the flood had purified it from its kelipah (husk) of impurity and lust. Therefore, during the month of Cheshvan, which always is about the cleansing scent of renewal, I begin my new kind of writing for you, Nature in the Parasha. So many life-lessons can be gleaned from Nature. I hope to find a Nature description in each parasha, delve into its depth and share it with you.

Nature’s Speech
Nature has messages for people. In the Torah, both trees and animals are described as talking. For example, the trees asked the olive tree to be king over them (Shoftim 9:8). The Talmud mentions that the raven spoke (Sanhedrin 108b), and in our parasha the dove told Noach a message. It is not necessarily that these animals and plants actually spoke, but rather that if they would be able to speak, they would have expressed the messages attributed to them. This also applies to Perek Shira (Nature’s Song). It is also possible that the angels appointed over the plants and animals are the one that speak (Pardes Yosef, Bereishit 8:11). The popular proverb, “Actions speak louder than words,” also applies to nature. By observing the happenings in Nature wisely, we may actually be able to understand their language and hear their messages for us. In the ark, Noach had developed a special relationship with the animals in his care. He had developed a sensitivity for their language and understood the message of the dove, as it states, “The dove came to him at the evening time, and in her mouth was an olive leaf torn off, so Noach knew that the waters had abated from off the earth” (Bereishit 8:11).

The Message of the Dove
Rashi explains that “in her mouth” means ‘a word in her mouth’ i.e. ‘speaking.’ The word טרף/taraf, which is translated ‘torn’ can also mean food, like in Eishet Chail (Mishlei 31:15).  Why did the Torah specify which kind of leaf the dove brought to Noach? A leaf from any tree would be proof that the waters had abated. Yet, the olive leaf is bitter and the dove’s message was to prefer the bitter over the sweet when we receive it from Hashem’s hand. The dove said, “Rather that my food be bitter as an olive, but from the hand of G-d, than as sweet as honey but from the hand of mortal men” (Babylonian Talmud Eruvin 18b, Bereishit Rabbah 33). What does it mean to receive food from the hand of G-d? Isn’t everything from G-d even if we receive it through other people who are His messengers? While it is true that everything we receive is from G-d, there are different levels of receiving directly and indirectly from Hashem. If, for example, you have just prayed very hard for a job, and then the very next day out of the blue someone calls to offer you the kind of job which fits you perfectly, then you really feel how its beshert – from the hand of Hashem. Thus ‘and in her mouth was an olive leaf torn off’ can also mean that the dove was telling Noach to pray for his food, just as she did (The Taz on Bereishit 8:11). The dove knew that it always had a sustaining meal at Noach’s table. Nevertheless, it preferred the bitter olive leaf, which it had torn from the branch by itself with Hashem’s help. Rather than receiving free gifts from people, working and earning our own livelihood feels like a more direct way of receiving from Hashem, since Hashem is rewarding us directly for our effort. The Torah teaches us about the importance of effort and that Hashem rewards our effort rather than the level we reach (Mesilat Yesharim 1). By putting in hard effort to attain our livelihood “through the sweat of our brow,” we attain true freedom like the dove (Malbim).

The Land of Israel – Protected from Planetary Calamities
The flood had been pouring down for forty days and nights, everything in the entire earth had perished safe for Noach and those with him in the Ark (Bereishit 7:23). The world had become one vast emptiness of water, desolate from all animals and vegetation, so from where did the dove get an olive leaf? Only seven days prior, the water covered the entire earth (ibid. 8:9-10). How could an olive tree grow and produce leaves within the deep water of the flood’s aftermath? Furthermore, the word טרף/taraf – torn testifies that the dove tore off the leaf from a tree-branch rather than just finding it floating on the face of the water (Rav Yosef Bechor Shor, Bereishit 8:11). The Midrash explains that the dove brought the olive leaf from the Garden of Eden (Midrash Bereishit Rabbah 33:6). However, how would Noach know then that the water had abated from the earth, since no water entered into the Garden of Eden? It is possible that the gates of the Garden of Eden were closed in order to prevent the floodwaters from entering. Yet, when the water subsided the gates opened. Another possibility conveyed by the same Midrash is that the dove brought the olive leaf from the Mount of Olives in Eretz Yisrael, for the waters of the flood did not pour down on the Land of Israel. This fact is testified by the prophet, “Son of man, say unto her: You are a land that is not cleansed, nor rained upon (גֻשְׁמָהּ/gushma) in the day of outrage” (Yechezkiel 23:24), (Midrash Bereishit Rabbah 33:6). Although, the water from the rest of the world gushed out and entered the land of Israel, since it did not rain continuously on the land, the windows of heaven were not opened. Therefore, the trees in the land of Israel endured, although in the rest of the world all trees were destroyed and uprooted by the flood (Ramban, Bereishit 8:11). I found this concept of protection very assuring for us who live in the Land of Israel. People from outside of Israel may be worried about us here in the Land, and certain Rabbis may even warn their congregation against coming here because they think it is dangerous. Yet, the Torah teaches us repeatedly that Eretz Yisrael is the safest place on earth, protected from planetary calamities.

The Secret Purity of the Dove and Olive
It is known that the secret of the olive is the secret of Yesod. (See The Seven Fruits of the Land of Israel with their Mystical & Medicinal Properties, pp. 277-305 for a detailed explanation of the correlation between Olive and Yesod). Yesod is connected to purity and the olive leaf therefore symbolized that the earth had been purified from its kelipah (Be’er Mayim Chayim). The dove brought particularly an olive leaf rather than any other plant, because olive trees do not receive grafting. The nature of doves is similar to the olive in this way, as they are known to be faithful to their mate. This is why Israel is compared to the dove (Yalkut Shimoni, Shemot 27:375). The olive leaf in the mouth of the dove thus symbolizes the rectification for the generation of the flood, which was steeped in immorality and even cattle, beast and fowl did not consort with their own species (Rashi, Bereishit 6:12). Unlike the raven who was afraid of the coldness in the aftermath of the flood, the dove, who was righteous, was protected. Likewise, the olive leaves symbolize the righteous, as they are evergreen and withstand the cold and wind of winter. Faithfulness and modesty also protect us not only from sexual diseases, but moreover, tzniut creates a protective energy field all around our aura, to protect us from any kind of negative influence.

Enlightening the World
“The dove came to him at the evening time…” What difference does it make to us whether the dove brought the olive leaf at night or in the morning? During the evening we need light, therefore the Midrash teaches that the dove brought light to the world. “Just as the dove brought light to the world, so shall you bring olive oil and light the candles before me… (Midrash Tanchuma 5). This teaches us that the dove brought not only an olive leaf but moreover olives from which Noach made oil יצהר/yitzhar related to the word tzohar that would bring light into the Ark (Kli Yakar). In my newly released book, The Seven Fruits of the Land of Israel with their Mystical & Medicinal Properties, I elaborate on the secret of the jug of oil that Noach made from the olives that the dove brought. I hope you will read there how this jug of oil went from hand to hand throughout the generations until it eventually wound up to miraculously burn for eight days in the Temple.

The Olive and the Light of Chanukah
The dove came immediately after the flood with an olive leaf in her mouth, symbolizing the olive oil in the Menorah. This alludes to the fact that through the holiness of the Chanukah candles we have the ability to overcome the evil waters of the flood that threatens us in every generation. The evil kingdoms who desire to annihilate the Torah and the Jewish people from the world are the personification of the floodwaters. The dove brought the olive leaf at the evening time which alludes to the heels of Mashiach, as it states “and it shall come to pass, at the time of evening, there shall be light” (Zechariah 14:7), (Likutei Halachot, Orach Chaim, Birkat Hashachar 5). The flood represented the aspect of sin through which one separates from the light of Hashem’s supervision, and thereby maims the eyes. This is rectified by the Chanukah candle, which pulls down Hashem’s supervision even below ten handbreadths, to acknowledge Hashem’s presence in every place, even in the lower realms. This knowledge pushes away the waters of the flood of confusion. Therefore, when Noach saw the olive leaf he knew that the waters had abated and the sin of the generation of the flood had been rectified (Likutei Halachot, Chosen Mishpat, Sheluchin 3).

The Healing Effect of Olive Leaves
The word טרף/taraf is also used in connection with healing, “Come, and let us return to Hashem; for He has torn (טרף/taraf), and He will heal us, He has smitten, and He will bind us up” (Hoshea 6:1). The dove brought the evergreen olive leaf from the Garden of Eden to heal Noach who was coughing blood from his hard toil taking care of the animals in the ark (Rabbi Yehoshua Zambrowsky, Ateret Yehoshua on Parashat Noach). In my book about the Seven Fruits p 327. I mention a wealth of health benefits of olive leaves. These health benefits include olive leaves ability to help cure arthritis, lower the blood-pressure, and protect against colds and flues.

Flying out of Exile
I’d like to conclude our weekly Lessons from Nature with a beautiful Torah from a Chassidic commentary called Yeteiv Lev on Parashat Noach, The dove alludes to the Shechinah. As it states the congregation of Israel is compared to the dove (Babylonian Talmud, Berachot 53b). (This commentary assumes that we know that the congregation of Israel and the Shechinah are one). Moreover, Israel is compared to the olive, because we have the ability to repent, just like the olive whose oil is extracted by means of crushing. “The dove came to him at the evening time…” alludes to the time of exile. “Behold an olive leaf is torn in its mouth,” to glorify in Israel and extract its oil like from an olive, when they will repent for the sake of Hashem. “Then Noach knew that the waters had subsided” – that the exile had ended from the land. May we merit the final geulah (redemption) in the merit of the teshuvah we have done during the previous holidays! May the oil extracted from the crushing of our heart during repentance merit to burn brightly in the Temple!

Monday, October 13, 2014

Life Lessons from the Shemittah (Sabbatical) Year

The New Year is upon us, and this year is a special year – the sabbatical shemittah year. Just as the last hour before Shabbat can get hectic cleaning the last dishes, finishing with the computer, and setting up the hotplate, so did the weeds, the old dry leaves, the bare hanging branches need to be uprooted or pruned. The shemittah clock was ticking, the remaining days and hours were winding down and there was no longer any time for procrastination. I was standing in the middle of my garden a few days before the New Year overwhelmed and helpless. Something was eating the leaves of the roses, most of the geranium leaves had wizened, nothing was growing in the flower bed and the herbs are hanging with their heads. Grass was growing all over except for where we wanted to have a nice grassy area which was sadly bare and yellowish. In another week it would be finished, meaning it would never finish, but there was nothing to do about it except for ‘letting go letting G-d.’ As great a test as it is for me to leave the dishes in the sink on Shabbat, how would I ever be able to leave the dead leaves, the aggressive weeds and the overgrown potted plants at my entry way? Don’t even mention how difficult it would be to hold myself back from straightening up the garden before we will be hosting important company such as my parents who have scheduled a visit during Chanukah.

A Year of Spiritual Recharge

Those of you who live outside of Israel where the laws of shemittah do not apply may hardly notice it when the shemittah year kicks in. All you have to do is ensure that whatever produce you buy imported from Israel has a proper shemittah kosher certificate. Some of you may even avoid buying any produce from Israel during the shemittah year and the following year in order to avoid the problem altogether. For those of us who live in Israel it’s a whole other ball game. The challenges and lessons of shemittah affect our lives to such a degree especially if you are a farmer or even a bit of a farmer like I would call myself. During shemittah year the farmer puts down his hoe and pickax and takes a year off from physical work for spiritual recharge by immersing himself in Torah study. From this ancient tradition the Israeli government has adapted, what we call, the sabbatical year where every teacher and professor in the country gets the seventh year off from teaching and receives his regular salary while taking courses and enrolling in continuing education programs. So wherever you live in the world the shemittah year is a year for spiritual recharge. It’s a time to decrease the involvement in the physical material world and increase Torah learning and self-reflection.

Who are in Charge Hashem or I?
Often when I go out to my garden to pray I have been distracted by some weeds that need to be pulled or a dead flower that needs to be cut off. Although it is challenging for me, I try to restrain myself without interrupting my davening. I received the insight that if I would only learn to be less compulsive about all the gardening work, and make my prayers to Hashem priority, then Hashem would bless my garden and take care of the work I wouldn’t get to. There is even a Talmud which supports this notion: “Rabbi Yonah said in the name of Rabbi Zera: If a man does his own business before he says his prayers, it is as if he had built a high place. He said to him: A high place, do you say? No, he replied; I only mean that it is forbidden. Rabbi Idi bar Abin said in the name of Rabbi Yitzchak bar Ashian: Whoever prays first before he goes about his own business, Hashem will do his business for him, as it says, righteousness [prayer] shall go before him and then He [Hashem] shall set his steps on his way” (Tehillim 85:14), (Babylonian Talmud, Berachot 14a).

So during shemittah year it is all about strengthening our emunah that Hashem is in charge, and no matter how hard we work on anything in life, it is only Hashem’s blessing that brings success. We learn this lesson most clearly when it comes to gardening, as so much in the garden is dependent on Hashem’s blessing. I have literally bought and planted hundreds of flowers, which unfortunately have died, for no apparent reason. In spite of the fact that I have worked so diligently on watering composting and weeding around them. Perhaps I have been overdoing it. You know; when we try too hard, usually whatever we are trying to do doesn’t work out. The reason is that Hashem is constantly showering us with blessing, yet we need to open up ourselves to receive them. When we try too hard we actually close the energy fields. Plants are sensitive to energies, they pick up on when we are tuned into emunah in Hashem’s blessing and respond accordingly with renewed growth. So shemittah is about opening ourselves to Hashem’s continuous blessings. It is the time of letting go of trying so hard and allowing Hashem to take over. This is why Hashem promises us a threefold blessing for the shemittah year: “I will command My blessing upon you in the sixth year, and it shall bring forth produce for three years. You shall sow the eighth year, and eat of the produce, the old; until the ninth year, you shall eat the old until her produce come in” (Vayikra 25:21-22).

Letting Go of Ownership
The main lesson of Shmittah is that ‘my’ land does not really belong to me. During the six years of the shemittah cycle I’m just a steward working for Hashem taking care of His land. During the seventh year all the slaves and workers go free (Shemot 21:2). Hashem doesn’t need me this year to take care of His land. These words are so easy to write but so difficult to internalize. I remember, since a little girl I would collect different things like stamps, napkins, beads and coins. I would periodically take out my collections from their shelves and boxes and inspect and count them to make sure none of them were missing. In this way I would exert my ownership upon my various items. Today, when I think about how fast life goes and how transient all our possessions are, it makes sense that shemittah comes to prepare us for the spiritual world which is beyond personal ownership. During shemittah year anyone can come into ‘your’ garden and help themselves, because it’s not your garden at all it’s everyone’s garden. Even when we put in so much money and work, we need to learn to apply all this effort for everyone and not just for ourselves. Human nature is that most people care much more about their personal everything rather than what belongs to the public. Shemittah comes to teach us to go beyond human nature into the realm of holiness, where we can feel as if everything we own belong to everyone. The Midrash tells a story of a man who is cleaning out rocks and rubble from his field into the public pathway. A Rabbi passing by asked him: “Why are you removing these rocks from a place that is not yours and putting them in place that is yours?” The man didn’t know what the Rabbis was talking about, until many years later. After having become impoverished, he lost all of his land. One day when he was walking on the public pathway, he stumbled over a big rock. When he recognized the rock as one of those he had cleared out of his field many years ago, the meaning of the question hit home. Now that he was a pauper, without his own land, the communal area was all he shared a part of. (Based on Midrash Kohelet Rabbah, 6:10).

This shemittah year I hope to up my level of emunah to reach at a place where I won’t even need to be struggling to hold myself back from weeding or nipping off a dead flower. I aspire to become so completely detached to the extent that I can shrug my shoulder at dead undergrowth saying, “I’m not the one in charge here!”

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The Sukkah – An Emunah Recharging Structure

Video: Rebbetzin Chana Bracha Shakes the Lulav - Click here
Women and Simchat Beit Hashoevah: Click here
Shabbat Chol HaMoed Sukkah Meditation:"Within the Glorious Clouds of Divine Embrace" Click here 

The Sukkah – An Emunah Recharging Structure
In the Shade of Emunah
As an EmunaHealer women frequently come to me seeking to be strengthened in their emunah. Many of us grew up with a critical mother or experienced some kind of trauma in early childhood that made us feel abandoned and consequently disconnected and far from Hashem. We may become hard on ourselves doubting that we ever will deserve Hashem’s love and protection. With lack of self-love it is hard to love others and allow ourselves to experience Hashem’s eternal love for us. The holiday of Sukkot comes to repair our lack of emunah in ourselves, in each other and in Hashem. During Sukkot Hashem brings us close into His inner chamber where He showers us with love. “His left hand is under my head, and his right hand embraces me (Song of Songs 8:3). This verse describes the Clouds of Glory represented by the Sukkah (Midrash Zuta Shir Hashirim 2). They are compared to a loving hug by Hashem, as we know that the minimum halachic walls necessary for a kosher Sukkah is two complete walls and a tefach (handbreadth) of a wall. The two complete walls can be compared to the two parts of the arm above and below the elbow, and the handbreadth of a wall represents the hand turning perpendicular to the arm in the shape of a hug. When we sit in the Sukkah we are receiving the most loving hug from our eternal Mother – the Shechinah (Feminine Indwelling Presence). Whatever love we didn’t get from our biological Mom, we can now replace by taking in the deepest unconditional love in the shade of the Sukkah. When we meditate in the Sukkah on letting the love of the Shechinah fill us and penetrate all our emotional hurts, then our capacity for emunah is heightened. Likewise, the original Sukkah in which Hashem protected the children of Israel in the dessert also recharged their emunah. The Jewish people emerging from Egypt had just undergone 210 years of the national emotional and spiritual trauma. The pain of slavery had taken its toll on our emunah. Egypt, our critical mother caused us self-doubt and distrust. Therefore, Hashem protected Israel in His Clouds of Glory in order to recharge our emunah.

In the Divine Embrace
The Torah emphasizes the mitzvah to live in the Sukkah during the seven days of Sukkot in order to recall how Hashem protected the children of Israel in Sukkot when He delivered us from Egypt. The word for Sukkot is written three times in the following Torah verses. You may notice that twice the word Sukkah is lacking the vav, and once it is written with the vav.

בַּסֻּכֹּת תֵּשְׁבוּ שִׁבְעַת יָמִים כָּל הָאֶזְרָח בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל יֵשְׁבוּ בַּסֻּכֹּת: לְמַעַן יֵדְעוּ דֹרֹתֵיכֶם כִּי בַסֻּכּוֹת הוֹשַׁבְתִּי אֶת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל בְּהוֹצִיאִי אוֹתָם מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם אֲנִי הָשֵׁם אֱלֹהֵיכֶם
You shall dwell in the Sukkah for seven days, all the inhabitants of Israel shall dwell in Sukkot, in order that your generations shall know that I made the children of Israel dwell in Sukkot when I took them out of Egypt, I am Hashem your G-d (Vayikra 23:42-43).

The walls of the Sukkah representing the Clouds of Glory correspond to the Surrounding Lights (Ohr Makif). Our Surrounding Light effects our protection. Having powerful and high quality Surrounding Lights will assure us to always be in the right place at the right time. B’nai Yissaschar explains that according to Arizal there exist a Surrounding Light which only surrounds the influencer (masculine) and another kind of Surrounding Light which surrounds the receiver (feminine) alone. These two Surrounding Lights correspond to the two times Sukkot is spelled without the vav. Yet, there is also a Surrounding Light which surrounds both the masculine and feminine together, this is the secret of “His right hand embraces me” (Shir Hashirim 2:6), which corresponds to the one time when Sukkot is spelled complete with the vav. When the word סוכה/Sukkah is spelled with the vav, its gematria (numerical value) is 91, which correspond to the unification of the masculine name of Hashem (yud/kei/vav/kei) (26), and the feminine name of Hashem Adnut (alef/dalet/nun/yud) (65), (26+65=91). The unification of these two aspects of Hashem is the secret of the embrace. Following the Divine hug there is a cleaving of spirits one to the other. Therefore, establishing the mitzvah of Sukkah fully (with the vav) offers the ability to receive Ruach Hakodesh (Divine Inspiration). It is known that the spirit of prophesy comes only to someone who is filled with simchah (happiness) (Rambam, Hilchot Yesodei HaTorah 7:4). This fits in with the great happiness attributed to the holiday of Sukkot more than any other holiday, as there is no greater happiness than the unification of male and female.

The Third Eye of the Sukkah

Sukkot is the most spiritual healing holiday abundant with lights of emunah and Divine Inspiration. This is even alluded in the name for the Sukkah which means to see with Divine Inspiration.

ואמר ר' יצחק יסכה זו שרה ולמה נקרא שמה יסכה שסוכה ברוח הקדש
Rabbi Yitzchak said, Yiskah that is Sarah. Why was her name called Yiskah because she would see (סוכה/socha) with Divine Inspiration (Yalkut Shimoni Bereishit 11:62).

Also the Hebrew name of the roof of the Sukkah – which is not really a roof at all is סכך/sechach, from the same root of סוכה/socha – see with Divine Inspiration. When we remove the physical security of a solid roof over our head, we open ourselves to spiritual security and emunah in the One Above Who watches over us perpetually.

Whereas the Sukkah endow us with Surrounding Lights, we shake the Lulav with its bunch in order to imbue ourselves with Inner Light (Ohr Penimi). The Lulav transmits Inner Lights into our spine, the Etrog into our heart, the Aravot (willow branches) into our lips, this is why there are two Aravot. Likewise, the Hadassim (myrtle) conveys inner lights into our eyes. Rabbi Fanger asks, “Why are there three Hadassim? Do we have three eyes?” Yes, indeed during Sukkot we learn to see with our third eye of Divine Inspiration.

Shaking Us Back to Life
Emerging out of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur alive and kicking, we shake the Lulav three times in each of the six directions, altogether 18 shakings according to the numerical value of חי/chai – life. The Lulav is the catalyst to actualize our Inner Light, which determines our sense of achievement, our financial state, our health and life-force for the year to come.

Actually, the לולב/Lulav itself has the numerical value of 68, which equals the gematria of חיים/chaim – life. Hashem is the source of our life, the more we cleave to Him, the more alive we will be. The Lulav with its bunch represents the Name of Hashem Havayah, which means existence. Each of the Four Species correspond to a letter in Hashem’s four lettered name and thus imbues us with His life energy. The yud corresponds to the myrtle branches of our eyes. The first hei corresponds to the willows of our lips. The vav corresponds the straight lulav spine, and the final hei to the etrog of our heart. As women, who are exempt from shaking the Lulav, we can enliven our spine in jubilant dance, open our third eye in contemplative meditation and break into joyful song with our lips, allowing the love to pour out of our heart. When we are in love and nurture our relationships with family and friends, we feel the most alive.

The Vapor of Shalom
And in the merit of Aharon I surrounded you within the Clouds of Glory as it says: “He spreads a cloud for a covering; and a fire to give light in the night” (Tehillim 105:39). There were seven clouds, above, below, at the four sides, and one before them which would kill snakes and scorpions, straighten the mountains and the valleys for them, and burn the thorns. They would bring up smoke and all the kings of the east and the west would see it, and the nations of the world would say “Who is this coming out of the wilderness like columns of smoke...” (Shir Hashirim 3:6), (Midrash Tanchuma, Bamidbar, Chapter 2).

What is the connection between Aharon and the Clouds of Glory, why are they in his Merit?
Aharon is known for his love of the Jewish people, he would love shalom and pursue shalom (Pirkei Avot 1:12). On Yom Kippur Aharon would enter the Holy of Holies and burn the incense. From this incense rose the Clouds of Glory that protected the children of Israel. In Siberia, tells the Rabbi of Ruszin, when two people hated one another the vapor from their mouth would never mix, each one would take off in a different direction. However, when two people love one another the vapor of their breath mix together to became one. When Aharon was alive, people loved each other so much and gave so much כבוד/kavod (respect) to one another, so that the vapor of their breath mixed together and becameענני כבוד /Ananei Kavod – Clouds of Glory. This is why there is so much love in the air on Sukkot (Rav Shlomo Carlibach, Lev Hashamayim pp. 278-279).

The Clouds of Emunah
In the wilderness Hashem bestowed us with three good gifts, the manna in the merit of Moshe, the well in the merit of Miriam and the Clouds of Glory in the merit of Aharon (Midrash Vayikra Rabbah 27:6). Why do we not have a holiday celebrating the manna or the well? Why do we only commemorate the Clouds of Glory during the Festival of Sukkot? Perhaps it is because the protecting Clouds of Glory, representing Hashem’s embrace express Hashem’s great love for us. The holiday of Sukkot thus celebrates tuning in to the perpetual steadfast love of Hashem. Being permeated with Hashem’s love in the Sukkah, strengthens our faith in ourselves, in other people and amplifies our emunah. The Clouds of Glory not only teach us to believe how we are always surrounded by Hashem’s love and protection, they moreover strengthen our emunah in the final redemption.

שמאלו תחת לראשי זו סוכה וימינו תחבקני זה ענן שכינה לעתיד לבא
“His left hand below my head” (Shir Hashirim 2:6) –This is the Sukkah. “And his right hand embraces me.” This is the cloud of the Shechina in the future (Midrash Rabah Shir Hashirim 2:19).

May we merit to experience the Divine Embrace this Sukkot and during the Final Redemption!