Friday, August 7, 2009

PARSHA - Eikev

In this week's Torah portion, Eikev, Moses recounts the story of the Golden Calf and the breaking of the first set of Tablets. After praying for another 40 days and nights, G-d commands Moses, "Hew for yourself two tablets of stone like the first..."

G-d then commands the Jewish people to build Him a sanctuary, 'so the nations will know that the sin of the Golden Calf has been forgiven'.

One might think that, after they sinned with gold, G-d would forbid them the use of gold for all time. Yet we find that the exact opposite occurred: the very first material mentioned in the building of the sanctuary -- the purpose of which was to atone for the Golden Calf -- is gold!

Our Sages explain that gold was created solely for the purpose of the sanctuary and the Holy Temple and after being brought into existence for this reason, permission was then granted for mankind to utilize gold for other purposes as well.

This is but one example of the principle that everything in the world is created to serve a G-dly purpose.

G-d grants man the free will. Gold, created solely for use in the sanctuary and Temple, was utilized by the Children of Israel for their idol-worship. The grand misuse of the gold, however, did not alter its original purpose.

The true objective behind all of creation is to enhance the service of the Creator of all things.

The fact that some people choose to utilize these means for corrupt purposes does not detract from their original intent. On the contrary, when a Jew utilizes modern technology for the purpose of spreading Torah and mitzvot, he elevates these tools to their true perfection, for which they were discovered in the first place.

Candle lighting time for L.A. is 7:31

Shabbat Shalom!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

PARSHA - Eikev

The true test of a Jew's Divine service is seen precisely when he encounters trials and difficulties. The trial serves to reveal his hidden abilities, and his service of G-d is strengthened by the experience.

There are two types of tests a person may face: the trial of wealth, and the trial of poverty. The Jews' trial during the 40 years of wandering in the desert consisted of both elements, and this was reflected in the phenomenon of the manna.

This week in the Torah portion of Eikev we read about the manna - a G-dly food, "bread from the heavens." In the desert, the Jewish people did not have to worry about where their next meal would be coming from; the manna fell predictably from the sky each day. It was entirely digestible, and had whatever taste a person wished. In addition, the manna was accompanied by gemstones and pearls. Thus the manna was symbolic of the epitome of wealth.

At the same time, however, the manna also embodied an element of poverty. Eating manna, the only sustenance the Jews were offered, was not satisfying like regular food. Moreover, the Jews received only enough manna for that particular day. It is human nature that when a person's house is stocked with food, he becomes sated after eating very little; when there is nothing in his cupboard, he is never fully satisfied. (They also had to have faith that G-d would cause it to fall the next day as well.)

Thus we see that on one hand, the manna was the richest sustenance a person could ask for; on the other, it was poor and unfilling.

So although the manna was the epitome of abundance, from the Jews' standpoint it was a trial of poverty, as the coarseness of their physical bodies prevented them from fully appreciating its G-dly qualities.

When a Jew is blessed with wealth, he shouldn't think that it is the result of his own efforts. Rather, he must always remember that it is G-d Who has granted him these riches. And if, G-d forbid, a person is faced with the test of poverty, he must likewise remember that "no evil descends from on High." For G-d bestows only bounty and beneficence, despite the limitations of our physical eyes.

Candle lighting time for L.A. is 7:31

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Tu B'av

Today is the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Av. The Talmud states that on this day the daughters of Jerusalem would go out, and dance in the vineyard to find for themselves marriage partners.

The mystics teach that marriage isn't really a union between man and woman, it is a reunion. A soul is divided into two halves. Marriage is the joyous reunion of these two estranged halves.

The love between husband and wife is the most passionate for it is a result of years of a soul's yearning to achieve wholeness through reuniting with its long-lost other half. When the two finally find each other and reconnect, the resulting emotions are dizzyingly intense.

On a cosmic level, man and woman are metaphors for G‑d and His nation. The soul of the Jew is a "part of G‑d"; we are essentially one with our Creator, just as a husband and wife are derived from one essence.

And we too undergo this process of estrangement and reunion.

On Tisha b'Av, with the destruction of the Holy Temple and the commencement of two millenniums of exile, we embarked upon a most horrifically painful long stretch of estrangement. The result of this estrangement will be the grandest wedding of all times, the coming of Moshiach which will usher in an era of eternal marital bliss.

It is this ultimate marriage that we celebrate on the 15th of Av. This day, a mere six days after Tisha b'Av, symbolizes our rebound; the reconciliation that follows the estrangement of Tisha b'Av—and its raison d'être.

The Talmud points to various events that occurred on the 15th of Av, all of which share the same theme—reunion that follows a period of estrangement:

The 15th of Av is the day when we celebrate our rebound. It is an auspicious day, a day to increase in Torah learning, prayer and acts of kindness.

Wishing much much success to all those who are seeking their soul's mate.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Tu B'av

Tomorrow, actually starting tonight, is the 15th day of the Hebrew month Av. The sages tell us "There were no greater festivals in Israel than the fifteenth of Av and Yom Kippur,"

Five special events throughout Jewish history took place on the fifteenth of Av.

They were:

  1. The tribe of Benjamin was permitted once again to marry the remainder of the Jewish people;

  2. The Generation of the Desert ceased to die; they had previously been condemned to perish in the desert because of the sin of the spies;

  3. The blockades that had been set up to prevent the Jews from going to Jerusalem for the festivals were removed.

  4. The cutting of the wood for the Holy Altar was completed;

  5. Permission was granted from the Romans to bury the slain of Betar.
There is another, all-encompassing reason.

Tisha B'Av is the day when the two Holy Temples were destroyed, signaling the start of the long and terrible exile we are still enduring. But these tragedies are not without purpose. "Descent is for the purpose of ascent," and the deeper the descent, correspondingly greater will be the ascent which follows. It is specifically after the awesome decline of Tisha B'Av that we can reach the loftiest heights, heights that would otherwise be inaccessible.

The fifteenth of Av transforms the evil of Tisha B'Av to the greatest good. The ultimate goal of the tragedies of the month of Av is that they should be transformed into a greater good -- the supreme festival of the fifteenth of Av.

May we merit to celebrate the fifteenth of Av this year in a truly befitting manner, with all Jews together in the Third and Eternal Holy Temple.