Friday, April 18, 2014

Parshat Kedoshim- "You Shall Be Holy"




קדושים. 


Leviticus: (19:1-20:27)

Parsha Kedoshim begins with a very important message:

קדשים תהיו כי קדוש אני ה אלהיכם

You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God, am holy (19:2).

Rashi explains that this statement was made during an assembly convened to highlight the importance of the matter, as it says-

דבר אל כל עדת בני ישראל

Speak to the entire congregation of the children of Israel

The Parsha proceeds with a series of laws, both moral and religious, among them repetitions of the ten commandment in slightly different wording.

For example:

איש אמו ואביב תיראו

 man shall fear his mother and his father(19:3).

And אל תפנו אל האללים

..Do not turn to the idols(19:4).

לא תגנבו

You shall not steal (19:11).

But perhaps the most important message in this Parsha is:

ואהבת לרעך כמוך אני ה

You shall love your fellow as yourself, I am G-d(19 :18).

Because when a person loves his fellow as he loves himself, he will never commit the forbidden moral laws against society. The Parsha ends with the same message as with which it began:

והיתם לי קדשים כי קרוש אני ה

You shall be holy to me, for I the Lord am holy(20 :26).

Therefore we learn that only if we follow the Mitzvot can we be holy. 

Friday, April 11, 2014

LOOK WITHIN YOURSELF TO FIND YOURSELF--finding inner redemption



More than just giving the house a super cleaning, Pesach is a time for us to give our souls an extra special cleaning. While we clean our external surroundings, we should recognize that all this physical cleaning is really a symbol for all the ‘spiritual cleaning’ we need to undergo. Pesach is a time for ultimate introspection, change, and removing all the unwanted chametz within our internal selves.
As the holy day approaches, we are reminded how our ancestors were freed from their bondage in Egypt.  Moreover,  as we celebrate our ancestors freedom, we should be awakened by finding inner freedom from our self-inflicted slavery.
Furthermore, the centrality of the holiday is the Pesach seder,  but what exactly are we recounting in this ancient ceremony? There is a biblical commandment to recount the Exodus from Egypt daily, which we say twice daily in the Shema, and on Shabbot, in the Kiddush. Now on the Pesach night, we intricately transmit the entire story.
Why are we required to recount the Exodus from Egypt so many times? If we recount it twice daily, why do we need an entire holiday to remind us again? Because slavery has many forms that are still prevalent today, we need an extra reminder of it's detrimental effects! The essence of the repetition is to emphasize that we must free ourselves from our self-inflicted slavery. We have become slaves to our physical realities, to money, power, success, prestige, honor, sex, popularity, the list goes on. We are still in Egypt
 The only way to be redeemed is to recount the story and recognize how to use our bondage as an opportunity to grow and become freed once again.

We can gain exceptional insight from the order of the Pesach seder, the Haggadah. Rev Yitzchak Breitowitz explains how the order of the Haggadah provides us with the insight we need to achieve personal redemption and gain freedom from our self-inflicted slavery—our personal Mitzrayims. He outlines the 1st seven parts of the seder as follow:
The sedar starts with:
  1. The Four questions- which precedes the narrative of the Exodus. The Pesach seder begins with asking questions, “Why is this night different than all the other nights?” In order for us to find the spiritual freedom we are seeking, we need to ask ourselves honest questions. We need to be seeking truth first and foremost. Without asking, no answers will come. 

Questions to ponder: 
  • Do I have unanswered questions? 
  • Am I asking enough questions? 
  • AM I EVEN ASKING?! 

The real question we should be asking ourselves is, "am I making mental space to ask myself the questions needed to get me closer to the truth?"

2. Beginning the reading of the Haggadah- The Haggadah begins with the account of the slavery and adversity we experienced in Egypt. Why does the Haggadah start with slavery and adversity? 
Essentially, we are meant to be reminded of the adversity, failure, hardship, and disappointment we face in our own lives. Through this account, we can find a glimmer of hope and success from all of our failures. The most exponential growth amounts not from focusing on our successes, but from recounting our failures. By being honest with yourself and your mistakes, accepting the fact that we are in fact human and constantly striving to learn and grow from our experiences, only then can we experience true freedom.

Questions to ponder:
  • What were your biggest failures?
  • What caused you to fail?
  • What are your most negative character traits?

3. Maror- eating of the bitter herbs highlights the need for us to be honest with ourselves to recognize and confront our destructive behavior that is bitter and enslaving.
Questions to ponder:
  • How do your negative character traits cause you bitterness?
  • How do you feel enslaved by your negative character traits?
4. 4 cups of wine/reclining: By drinking the wine and reclining, we are withstanding the maror-enslavement. Rather than giving into our self-infliction,  we have the capacity to grow and elevate ourselves spiritually, thereby riding ourselves of all the unwanted chametz within (all the character traits we want to remove and transform). By becoming aware of our faults, we gain an equal awareness of our potential improvement and innate goodness.

Questions to ponder:
  • From your past failures, adversities, disappointments, how can you use those experiences to develop yourself further?
  • Where do you have the capacity to grow?
  • How can you transform your negative character traits into admirable ones? What will be required of you?
  • What are your stumbling blocks? How can you push past them?
5. Matzvah
After 18 minutes, the flour will become chametz (leavened bread), but baked under 18 minutes, it will become matzah, teaching us the importance of time. We must be decisive with our actions. To often, we are momentarily inspired, but in order to make lasting changes, we need to make concrete plans for change.
Questions to ponder:
  • What concrete actions can you make in the future to avoid making similar mistakes?

6. Pascal Lamb
This is the only sacrifice that is brought in a group, no one person could bring this alone. This stresses the importance of being part of a community.
Questions to ponder?
  • Are you part of a community? 
  • If yes, can you be more involved?

7. Intergeneration communication
Judaism has been passed down, generation after generation, from father to son, teacher to student, and so on. The emphasis of Torah is passing the tradition down to our children, and this is the formula of the Haggadah. To keep the tradition alive, to keep the motif of inner redemption alive, we must follow the old age tradition our ancestors have used evermore, passing on the sweet story of Pesach.

Pesach is teaching us that we too need to be freed from our self inflicted bondage. Look within yourself to find yourself. Ask yourself honest questions. Look honestly and courageously at your faults and the adverse times and recognize you can reach spiritual heights of greatness. Be decisive, take action NOW, and stay inspired. Love your nation, your family. Continue to pass down this wisdom, from this generation to the next, only then you will truly achieve freedom. Now that is the Exodus experience! Chag Sameach!

Parshat Acharei Mot- Environmental Pollution







      At the end of this weeks parsha there is a passuk which writes " do not perform the practice of the land of Egypt in which you dwelled; and do not perform the practice if the land of Cna'an to which I bring you, and do not follow their traditions"...the passuk continues "carry out My laws and safeguard My decrees to follow them... Which a man shall do and by which he shall live."(18:3,4,5)
The Torah is giving us a formula for life. The Torah May seem to be so restricting however, it's not it's all for our benefit. Every generation becomes more impure by the second. In Egypt, the Israelites didn't change their names, clothing and language. This was the merit why we were saved from exile. If we were there for another second we would become so impure that it would have been to late for us to come out of Egypt so Hashem did us a favor he "proposed" to us and eventually we have 49 days to work on ourselves to deserve to marry Hashem. It is a privilege and honor to be Jewish so we have from pesach until Shavuot the day which we receive the Torah from Hashem as our ring and commitment to G-d. Living in America can be difficult to embrace our Jewish heritage especially with the fashion, language and American names that are around us. Unfortunately, we want to fit in with the wrong people. If only we would realize what the meaning to be Jewish is we would be proud to act like a Jewish boy or girl and be proud of how we dress and our identity. May this Shabbat bring each and everyone of you closer to Hashem and closer to yourself and feel proud to be who you are.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Parshat Merzora- Spiritual Disease




In this weeks parsha it speaks about tzara'at. A person receives tzara'at from speaking loshan Hara- slander against another Jew. In order for a person to remove this disease  he must go to the Cohen to get "judged" if he is pure or not. Every thing a person does has a chain reaction to the other person. There is an effect to even the slightest things that a person does wrong. It is very important to make sure that we are building the Chain and not damaging it with our words, thoughts and actions. We should be like the Cohen who decides if the person is pure or not so too, we should be careful as to what we do and with whom we associate ourselves with. Let's try this Shabbat to be positive and somehow make a positive chain reaction through our kind words, actions and even thoughts. Before pesach, we do a search for chametz and the following morning we burn the chametz. Not only do we physically remove the chametz within our homes and our possessions but so too, should we remove the chametz within ourselves spiritually. Any bad character trait one possesses look within yourself and see how you can burn it completely before pesach. Remove the tzara'at, the disease from your neshama and become pure. You can start by passing down a smile and you have started the most powerful chain reaction from something small. Pesach is the time where we get rid of our bad deeds and start coming closer to Hashem. Remember that every negative effect has a tremendous effect to another Jew so how much more soo when you do a mitzvah how much power and strength you give to Klal Yisrael.
Shabbat shalom umevorach!
Besrat Hashem through our good deeds we shall be zochet to merit the coming of mashiach amen! 

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Women's Connection





Parashat Tazria begins with the laws of a “Yoledet,” a woman after childbirth, who was required in the times of the Bet Ha’mikash to offer special sacrifices several weeks after delivering a child. Specifically, she would bring one animal as a Hatat (sin offering), and another as an Ola (sacrifice which is completely burned on the altar). 


Already in the Gemara (Keritut 26) we find the question raised as to why a woman must bring a sin offering after delivering a child. Certainly, not only is there nothing wrong in bearing children, but this is precisely what we are supposed to be doing. Rabbi Shimon Bar Yohai therefore explained that a woman brings a sin offering to atone for the comments she makes while experiencing the extreme pain of labor. At the height of her suffering, a woman on the birthing table might likely make a vow never to cohabit with her husband again so that she will never have to experience this suffering. As the weeks and months pass, however, she changes her mind and wishes to have another child. The Torah instructs her to offer a sin offering to atone for her improper vow during labor. 


The Gemara does not, however, address the question of why she brings an Ola sacrifice. The Ola offering is generally brought voluntarily, yet here the Torah requires that the woman bring this sacrifice. Why? 


Don Isaac Abarbanel (1437-1508) explains that the woman brings an Ola to express her gratitude to the Almighty for emerging safely from the dangerous situation of childbirth. The process of labor and delivery, while on the one hand perfectly natural, is also fraught with danger, and a woman after delivery must give thanks to Hashem for bringing her safely through this dangerous condition. 


The question remains, however, as to why the Torah requires the woman to bring a special sacrifice to express her gratitude. Earlier in Vayikra, the Torah discusses the Toda, or thanksgiving offering, which one would offer to express gratitude to G-d. The Rabbis explained that this offering would be brought by somebody who emerged safely from one of four dangerous situations – imprisonment/captivity, an overseas journey, desert travel, and serious illness. Seemingly, a woman after childbirth should be no different than any patient who survived a serious illness, and must therefore bring a Toda sacrifice. But for some reason, the Torah chose to require the woman to offer an Ola sacrifice, instead of a Toda, and the question naturally arises as to why this is the case. 


Two answers have been given for this question. One answer is that a Toda should be brought soon after the experience, when the person still feels the excitement and joy of salvation. As we know, human nature is such that even after the most exhilarating and inspiring experience, the feelings of inspiration gradually wane with time. Therefore, in order for a Toda to express genuine feelings of gratitude and thanksgiving, it must be brought soon after the individual is rescued from the dangerous situation he confronted. A woman after childbirth, however, is considered Teme’a (ritually impure) for several weeks, and she is thus unable to bring a sacrifice until well after the birth. Hence, a Toda offering would not be appropriate, and the Torah requires her to bring a different sacrifice – an Ola – instead. 


But there is also a second answer, one which many people will find difficult to relate to in contemporary society. The Toda sacrifice was very large, consisting of an animal as well as forty loaves of bread, and it all had to be eaten the day the offering was brought or that night; nothing could be left until the following day. The reason for this is because the Torah wanted the individual bringing a Toda to invite a large crowd to participate in his celebration and thus publicize his experience of G-d’s assistance and salvation. In the case of a woman, however, such a public affair would not be appropriate. The Torah value of Seniut (modesty) extends beyond mode of dress; it refers more generally to an overall sense of humility and discretion, and when it comes to women, it involves a greater emphasis on privacy. Women are encouraged to conduct themselves in a quieter, more private fashion, and thus being at the center of a large celebration would not be appropriate. 


Even though we do not offer sacrifices today, as we are still without the Bet Ha’mikdash, we have much to learn about Torah life by studying the concepts underlying the Korbanot. The sacrifices of the Yoledet teach several valuable lessons, as we have seen, reminding us of the importance of maintaining our sense of appreciation and gratitude for all that Hashem does for us, and how we must remain committed to the Torah value of Seniut even as we live in a society to which these ideals are so foreign. 


Friday, March 21, 2014

Kosher Soul

Parshat Shemini


In this weeks parsha we receive the mitzvah of kosher. Why would G-d care about what we eat? He cares because our food is our fuel/energy which sustains us energy to continue to do mitzvot. Just like when you own a car you will make sure to maintain the car with what ever it needs in order to be able to drive it safely. Just like it matters what one puts in his car so too, how much more so it should matter to what enters our bodies which have an extreme effect on our souls. Whether it's what we hear, say, eat and see. Kosher is a term which is Allowed for a Jewish soul. Not necessarily is kosher only regarding food it can refer to the music one chooses to listen to and the movies one watches. Everything we do is a reflection to who we are as an individual. We might not see it however, everything we do has an effect on other souls including our very own soul. It is very important to make sure that everything we choose to do is appropriate for a Jewish soul including what we eat, listen to and watch. In the world we are living now we all want to 'fit in' into society. However,  no one wants to fit into their heritage and belief system. Just because everyone is going left doesn't mean it is the correct way to go for your spiritual soul. Many people are so addicted to their phones that they forget that they can make a free call to Gd the busiest creator in the world. In life we need to have a balance of both physical and spiritual. Let's try to balance both the physicality and spirituality this Shabbat.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Parshat VAYIKRa- Why The Small Alef?




The Book of Vayikra receives its name from the first word in the Sefer – “Vayikra” (“He called”). The Sefer begins with G-d calling Moshe and summoning him into the newly-constructed Mishkan, to issue the commands relevant to the Korbanot (sacrifices). 


Anyone who looks at the way this word – “Vayikra” – is written in the Torah will immediately notice something peculiar: the final letter, “Alef,” is written considerably smaller than the other letters of the Torah. This in itself requires explanation, but the significance of this small letter might be even more far-reaching than it at first appears. Although the numerical value of the letter “Alef” is 1, if we spell the word “Alef” (“Alef,” “Lamed,” “Peh”), and combine the values of its letters, we arrive at 111 – the number of verses in Parashat Vayikra. This might allude to the fact that the message of this small “Alef” is the essential message of this Parasha. If we understand the small “Alef,” then we can understand the fundamental concept underlying all of Parashat Vayikra. 


The construction of the Mishkan served to rectify the sin of the golden calf. Anytime a Jew commits a sin, he drives the divine Presence from his soul; he banishes the spark of Kedusha, the piece of G-d within him, and sends it away to exile. Teshuva (repentance) means making ourselves worthy of once again receiving that spark, and being a repository for the Shechina. And thus after the sin of the golden calf, God’s presence left Benei Yisrael, and they needed to build the Mishkan in order to bring Him back. But this process needed to unfold gradually, step by step. Benei Yisrael could not receive the divine presence all at once. After falling so low after the sin of the golden calf, the process of the Shechina’s return had to proceed slowly. A person leaving a dark room needs time to adjust to light. He cannot have the lights turned on all at once instantaneously. His eyes are simply unable to handle the drastic transition. 


The Tasher Rebbe of Montreal, in his Abodat Aboda, explained that this is the symbolism underlying the small “Alef” at the beginning of Sefer Vayikra. Moshe Rabbenu was at the 50th level of Kedusha, the highest stature attainable by a human being. God instructed Moshe that in order to bring Beneh Yisrael back to where they needed to be, he would have to lower himself so the spiritual light he radiated would be smaller. After the darkness of the golden calf, Beneh Yisrael could not immediately receive the brightest spiritual light. And thus God appeared to Moshe on a lower level of prophecy, symbolized by the small letter “Alef.” 


This explains the comments of Rashi to the first verse of Sefer Vayikra, where he writes that the word “Vayikra” is a “Lashon Hiba” – a term that connotes love and affection. The Tasher Rebbe explained that the entire concept of Parashat Vayikra, G-d’s willingness to restore His Shechina among Beneh Yisrael in the Mishkan, is a great act of love. Beneh Yisrael betrayed Him in the worst way, worshipping a foreign deity just weeks after receiving the Torah, and yet He was still prepared to return to them. He always gives us the opportunity to return and repair our relationship with Him. And He even ensures that the process will unfold at the right pace, step by step, so that it will be effective. 


This is why the small “Alef” embodies the essence of the Parashat Vayikra. The concept underlying Korbanot is that we have the ability to restore our relationship with Hashem after falling. This entire book is a “Lashon Hiba,” an expression of great love by G-d, who is always prepared to welcome us back in Teshuba, and is always prepared to help us along this process. 

Derived from Rabbi Mansour

Shabbat shalom!