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Parshat Eikev - knowing what is important

Reb Shlomo on Parshas Eikev

When Something is Missing

I want to share something very deep with you. The most important things in Avodas Hashem, in serving G-d, are always the things you don't have to do; you can get by without them. The truth is some of the most important things in life are the things which we don't really have to do. The most important things between my wife, my children and me are always the things I don't have to do. If I don't - it's also okay, but gevalt are they important. Gevalt are they important.

I want you to know, when Moshe Rabbeinu says 'Ribbono Shel Olam, I have to go into Eretz Yisrael,' Moshe Rabbeinu brought down a new teaching from Heaven. Moshe Rabbeinu is showing Yidden that it's not only about what you have to do; it's what my neshama mamesh wants... deep, deep inside. And deep, deep inside, every Yid knows 'I have to go into Eretz Yisrael.'

Rashi says that Eikev is talking about "Mitzvos Kalos She'adam Dash Be'akeivav." You know what that means? We are talking about mitzvahs you step on, mitzvahs which I don't have to do. Let me ask you something. I see a poor man and I give him ten dollars, do I have to smile at him? I don't have to. Let me ask you something else. When I say 'Good Shabbos' to a Yid, where does it say that I have to say it besimcha? It doesn't say it anywhere.

You know something, the truth is that mide'oraysa, from the Torah, you don't have to wear a yarmulke. That means that a person can say 'I'm very strict on everything the Torah says, and I don't have to wear a yarmulke. Yes it's a minhag, it's a custom. I'm not into customs. I have enough from what the Torah says'. You know what? Maybe I'll go to Heaven, maybe I will sit next to Avraham Avinu without a yarmulke, but gevalt something is missing... something so deep is mamesh missing.

This week's parsha Eikev is very challenging. Verse after verse we are challenged to learn and to know what being a Jew is all about. In the northern hemisphere this is the time of year that many of us go on 'vacation' to rejuvenate and to strengthen our bodies and spirits. The real summer challenge is to 'reJewvenate' our lives.

Life is challenging. Life as Jews is particularly challenging. No, I'm not about to talk politics. From a few years ago ..We are at war in Gaza. This summer we see our 'allies' telling us to be quiet and not criticize a very bad deal with Iran that will endanger not only Israel, but also the entire world. We are being threatened not only by avowed enemies, but also by our 'friends' threatening us that we will find ourselves alone. So what else is new? Just a few weeks ago we already read in the Torah Balaam's prophecy about us "Behold! a people that shall dwell alone and will not be reckoned among the nations." [Bamidbar 23:9] The truth is that Hashem is also alone.

The real truth is that we are not alone and Hashem is not alone. We are with Him and He is with us- always!

We have to make sure that we don't leave Hashem alone and Hashem surely will not leave us alone. Whenever we put our trust in man we end up in trouble. Our job is to be one with each other and one with Hashem, one with the Torah and the mitzvot. That is the only thing we can really do that will make a difference. Let's stop pretending that we are like everyone else. Isn't it clear that the world will never accept that? And they shouldn't! Because what they all really want from us is to see us as a united people, living in harmony with one another and with Hashem. And then we will be able to unite the whole world. Let us all read and learn this parsha carefully.

Let our hearts be open to the challenges of being real Jews; and let us rise to them and reJewvenate with much joy.


[based on בעל שם טוב עה"ת ואתחנן אות נ"ב]

What can be learned from all those movies I watched, that I shouldn’t have? What can be learned from all those places I shouldn’t have gone to? What was I looking for? What did I find there? What positive and redeemable things could be found now, years later, when it all still lingers within the recesses of my memory?

We pursue pleasure. Like with everything else, there are higher and lower pleasures, refined and coarse, healthy and toxic, unifying and divisive. Even the holy Torah can be the ‘elixir of life’ or the elixir of the opposite. We have to really analyze our intentions and motivations in seeking pleasure.

Pleasure is found in פנימיות – pnimiut; in the innermost life essence connection. The highest of pleasures is called עונג – oneg, delight. In holiness, oneg is the delight that is felt without being aware of yourself; oneg is found in having a real, sincere honest and complete relationship with Hashem, with Torah, and with one another.

Our parsha is called ‘Eikev’ which means, because. This word ‘eikev’ also means, a heel. “It will be that you will hear with your heel,” – the heel is the densest and least sensitive part of the body. By using the word ‘eikev’ [instead of כי – ‘kee’ -that, or אם – ‘eem’ -if] the Torah is suggesting that we can listen so deeply, that even our heels hear and respond.

There is a short anecdote in Tractate Gittin, 56b, that illustrates how even our bones react to our feelings. This occurred when Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai met with Vespesian:

A messenger came to Vespasian from Rome saying, Up, for the Emperor is dead, and the notables of Rome have decided to make you [Vespasian] head [of the State]. He [Vespasian] had just finished putting on one boot. When he tried to put on the other he could not. He tried to take off the first but it would not come off.

He said To R. Johanan: What is the meaning of this?

R. Johanan said to him: Do not worry: the good news has done it, as it says, Good tidings make the bone fat.

[He asked R. Johanan:] What is the remedy?

[R. Johanan said to him:] Let someone whom you dislike come and pass before you, as it is written, A broken spirit drieth up the bones.

He did so, and the boot went on.

When you experience oneg – the highest of all physical and psychological pleasures, you are also honestly humbled and you realize that the pleasure is simply the reality of being in true union; it is the union that is the real goal. At the highest level of true union we experience oneg - delight, because that is what emanates in true union.

But if one has swallowed the toxins of forbidden pleasures, sensitivity to true union is lost. You can get addicted to pleasure itself and you may end up seeking it even at the expense of others. You might even knowingly take pleasure in hurting another, even one who loves you. May Hashem have compassion on us.

So what is one to do after having been intoxicated on forbidden pleasures? How do we get rid of the poisons? How do you stop being a victim of your past? Both the victimhood that was inflicted upon you as well as the self-inflicted victimhood?

It is important to look at why we seek pleasure. Actually, it is completely natural to seek pleasure, we don’t need to explain why. But the deeper truth is that we are really looking for the source of pleasure.

We are looking for the pnimiut – we want to be connected in the deepest way, we seek the oneg of true union, and when we don’t find it in a healthy way, we look for pleasure in the forbidden fruit. If you were being taught Torah, and there was no oneg and instead you were being abused, you ended up running away and you lost faith in getting it from what you were told is holy because what was being delivered was coming in very unholy packaging. And so you went looking for pleasure wherever you could find it and you found it in the forbidden fruits- but it also was mixed with a lot of bad stuff that really messed up your capability to be in holy union.

So, don’t regret that you were looking for pleasure. But know that the highest pleasure is the pleasure of giving with love, giving yourself with love to Hashem, to Torah and mitzvot, to your brothers and sisters. That is your highest honor.

Now you also need to clean up the mess, put things in place, eliminate the toxins. Do this by regretting that you are intoxicated and deciding on seeking only holy and permissible pleasure. To do this, you need to coronate Hashem as your King, your only King over all your limbs, your heart and mind, even over your dense heels. At each step along the way remember why you are doing this- because you want to be real and true to your essence soul. You want to be a true, free servant of Hashem. You want to bring His goodness into your life, into the world.

Ask Hashem to forgive you and to help you and believe that He does forgive. Work on falling in love with Hashem. Do your mitzvot with joy; with the joy of making Hashem proud of you and happy to see you moving towards being your real self. With the joy of being in union with Hakadosh baruch Hu- the Holy One blessed is He.

Pnimiut and Oneg

In our holy tongue, we have two words for pleasure: hana’a and oneg. We might say that hana’a -simple pleasure is stimulated through ‘garments’ so as to arouse us to move towards union beyond garments- union in which you can’t even speak, because there are no words in human tongue to describe it.

In learning Torah, in learning halacha- Torah laws, we are engaged in bringing Hashem’s presence into the ‘worldly’ domain. The holy Zohar (Zohar Chadash on Shir HaShirim) enlightens us that the word ‘halacha’ is the same letters as hakala (the bride). The bride is to be beautifully adorned. We learn the letters and words of the halacha and we adorn them and make them beautiful through deep study and understanding. These are the beautiful and colorful robes of the bride. That is the ‘hanaha’ – pleasure of learning. However, the ultimate oneg is the union of Chatan v’kala - the bride and groom. The union without the robes, beyond robes, beyond all robes, beyond words, beyond letters - there is Oneg.

I heard from the Skverer chassidim, who regularly study the holy Me’or Eynaim, that the holy Tchernobler Rebbe said many divrei Torah every Shabbos. After every Shabbos, his Chassidim would write down everything they heard him say over Shabbos and would then give him their notes. The Tchernobler would allow them to publish only the Torahs he did not recollect giving over. If he consciously remembered the words, he didn’t trust them completely for maybe they were ‘his’ words and not Hashem’s.

It may be understood that the divrei Torah which he did not remember saying, were the words that came from beyond the garments of the intellect. These holy words emanated purely from the Oneg of the union with Hashem. These words he trusted as being true Torah.

The Kalla is beautifully adorned in colorful robes (or maybe in white robes) to arouse the union beyond robes. To bond pnimim b’pinimin (innermost with innermost), essence with essence. Where there is no separation whatsoever. There you find true Oneg (pleasure).

There, is the secret of kissing and the secret of love. The secret of four kisses corresponding to YKVK, corresponding to AHaVA. Giving breath to one another and receiving breath from one another; birth breaths of life and love. Being one within One.

Have a wonderful Shabbos b’ahavah ubivracha.


The Mitzvah Of Birkat Hamazon

In this week's parsha we learn the mitzvah of Birkat Hamazon – Grace After The Meal: "[And When] You Will Eat And You Will Be Satiated And You Shall Bless Hashem Your Gd For The Good Land He Has Given You." (Devarim 8:10)

There is a most amazing story related in the Talmud [Brachot 7a]:

It was taught: R. Ishmael b. Elisha says: I once entered into the innermost part [of the Sanctuary] to offer incense and saw Akathriel Jah, (Lit., 'crown of God'.) the Lord of Hosts, seated upon a high and exalted throne. He said to me: Ishmael, My son, bless Me! I replied: May it be Thy will that Thy mercy may suppress Thy anger and Thy mercy may prevail over Thy other attributes, so that Thou mayest deal with Thy children according to the attribute of mercy and mayest, on their behalf, stop short of the limit of strict justice! And He nodded to me with His head. Here we learn [incidentally] that the blessing of an ordinary man must not be considered lightly in your eyes.

G-d is asking man to bless Him! Seems absurd, doesn't it? The Ishbitzer Rebbe explains that this is exactly the relationship that Hashem has established with us. Hashem has given us a role in manifesting His presence and blessings in the world. Hashem is waiting to hear our blessings. Like an infant stimulates the mother to nurse him/her, our blessings stimulate Hashem to manifest His blessings and kindness upon us.

The Holy Zohar brings us a beautiful teaching about praying for and thanking Hashem for, food and water. [I should tell you that this is my understanding of the teaching found in the Zohar parshas T'rumah 170a. – I hope that it is correct.]

From our physical perspective we would say that the order of events is as follows: first we feel hungry and thirsty – then to satisfy these bodily needs we are propelled to seek food and water, both in prayer and in action. Once satisfied, we bless and thank Hashem for the food and water that we received.

The Zohar Hakadosh teaches that the order of events is otherwise. It is the desire and yearning of the Shechinah to praise Hashem. The Shechinah wants us to be close to Hashem – it desires that every one of us should seek Hashem. Therefore we experience physical hunger and thirst, so that we should be inspired to feel a spiritual hunger and thirst to be close to Hashem, which is satiated by our thanking and praising Hashem for the food that He gives us.

It is interesting that we hunger for food and we thirst for water. But we don't 'gasp' for air unless we don't have it. In other words Hashem designed the world in such a manner that we should regularly 'feel' thirst and hunger, but we seldom exper