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Parshat Bereishit -Welcome to the Beginning

October 25, 2019

Shabbos Bereishit – Shabbos mevarchim - Rosh Chodesh r’m

 

Cheshvan

 

Welcome to the Beginning: "Bereishit Bara Elokim – In the beginning G-d created the heavens and the earth." We wish you a wonderful new year of Torah learning and living b'simcha. I wish to welcome and bless our new and former participants to this new cycle of learning the weekly Parsha. May Hashem bless our learning to be sweet for all of us, for my children and for your children, always. It is my pleasure to learn together with you and I hope that b'ezrat Hashem it will be meaningful and joyous for all of us throughout the year.

Torah study is much more than an intellectual pursuit; it’s about being in a very special and deep relationship with Hashem. The more joy- the deeper the relationship. It is a Jewish custom to kiss the sefer [or the page] we are learning, both before and [especially] after learning from it.

 

IN THE IMAGE OF G-D HE MADE HIM

 

1:26 G-d said, "Let us make man in our image, as our likeness, and let him dominate the fish of the sea, the birds of the heaven, the animals, all the earth, and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth."

1:27 And thus G-d created man in His form. In the form of G-d, He created them.

 

Reb Shlomo once asked, "What do you think it means that man is created in the image of G-d? Do you think that if you took a picture, Hashem looks like you?" Here is one of the explanations that he taught us:

 

Our Rabbis teach us that the First Holy Temple was destroyed because the Jews of that time were guilty of the three cardinal sins: idol worship, the spilling of blood, and sexual immorality. And what about the Second Beis HaMikdash? Why did it fall to the Romans? Because the Yidden hated each other without reason. And so, our Sages conclude, senseless hatred is as terrible a thing as the three worst sins in the world.

 

Why do we hate other people? Because we think we know everything about them – who they are, why they do what they do. Parents think, “These are my children, so I know what’s going on with them.” But, sadly enough, much of the time we’re totally wrong…

 

We so misjudge each other. That’s why the Torah says that if we hate people, or even if we’re only angry – we have to try to find a way to tell them, to talk to them about it. Because, really, it might only be a misunderstanding.

 

Sometimes we meet people who seem to us a little bit crude, a little bit impure – certainly not holy. So we want to knock them off. But the truth is, we have no idea what a Yidele might be doing when we’re not looking. So the Holy Baal Shem Tov tells us that, even when we see others doing wrong, we have to believe that in the inside of their insides they’re really the holiest of holy – and deserving of the greatest miracles..

 

Everybody is created in G-d’s Image. What does this mean? That just as G-d is so Deep, so Hidden – just as we can’t see G-d – so too we can’t really know what’s going on in the depths of other people. And unless we love them with all our hearts, we’ll never know…

 

בראשית

ויאמר אלוקים יהי אור

G-d said "LET THERE BE LIGHT"

In honor of the yahrtzeit of Reb Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev zt"l which was observed on the 25th of Tishrei, I wish to share with you my 'free translation' of but a small portion of the opening teaching in his sefer Kedushat Levi:

 

"In the beginning Elokim created the heavens and the earth."

 

The general principal (that we must know) is that the Creator blessed be He created everything and that He is everything; and that His radiance is never interrupted, for at every moment He radiates abundant life to all His creations, to all worlds, to all supernal chambers and to all angels and to the 'chayot hakodesh'.

 

That is why we say "yotzer or u'vorei choshech" – He creates light and He creates darkness, and not He created in the past tense, rather He creates in the present tense, for at every moment He is creating, for at every moment He radiates life to all living things (to all that is in existence); and everything emanates from Him, baruch Hu, and He is shaleym- complete.

 

He consists of everything [and beyond], therefore when a person reaches AYIN-no-thing-ness, and he knows that he is nothing and that it is Hashem who is giving him his life energy, then he refers to Him as the One who creates. But when a person sees himself [as the reference point] and does not perceive his no-thing-ness then he is on the level of a YESH- [a separate self] then he refers to the Creator b"H, as the One who created- past tense, that is that He already created him (as if now he exists on his own).

 

In the "Asher Yatzar" blessing we say "Blessed are You Hashem… who created (past tense) the man with chochma-wisdom" for chochma is the level of YESH-some-thing. It is appropriate to say created [past tense] in this blessing, rather than creates (since He created us with chochma which is this the level of YESH, therefore we perceive ourselves as YESH- some-thing that has been created).

 

In the writings of the Ariz"l it says that when we say "HASHEM MELECH" - Hashem is the King, this is the aspect of AYIN- no-thing-ness and we are proclaiming that it is Hashem who is giving us life energy at this very moment. We are really nothing; we exist only because Hashem is providing us with energy.

 

The aspect of AYIN- no-thing-ness is above and beyond nature. The YESH- some-thing, functions within nature. However we join the YESH to the AYIN through Torah and Mitzvot. . . . for the Torah and the Mitzvot are both "concealed and revealed." The concealed is the aspect of AYIN and the revealed is the aspect of YESH. . . . . The delight we provide Hashem in doing a mitzvah is concealed, whereas the benefit we bring to ourselves in doing a Mitzvah is revealed.

 

LET THERE BE LIGHT

 

"And the earth was 'tohu and vohu' [in a state of confusion and emptiness] and there was darkness upon the face of the firmament, and the Ruach spirit of Elokim was hovering upon the surface of the water. And Elokim said, "Let there be light," and there was light. (Bereishit 1:2-3) In the Midrash Rabbah, Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish interpreted that the words 'tohu', 'vohu', 'chosech' and 'tehom' are references to the four exiles of the Jewish people. [We are presently at the end of the fourth and most bitter of all, exile. The Ruach Elokim is the spirit of Moshiach, that is hovering "upon the surface of the water," drawn closer by our Tshuvah. "And Elokim said Let there be light, and there was light," is the coming of Moshiach and the complete and final redemption, when "the earth will be filled with the knowledge of G-d."

 

The Yefei To'ar comments that in this Midrash we learn that the goal of Creation is the ultimate redemption that will take place in the Messianic era with the coming of Moshiach. Then everyone will 'know' and be conscious of Hashem. In between the beginning and the end we have to go through the four exiles, but it's all leading to the ultimate redemption. Rebbe Nachman taught that we must always remember the future. That is the secret of Jewish life; no matter how great and how many the hardships, "Ani Ma-amin b'Emmunah Shleimah – we believe with perfect faith in the coming of the Moshiach." We don't lose sight of the beautiful world that we will live in when Moshiach will arrive. B'ezrat Hashem we'll get there very soon.

 

 

YOU ARE IN THE STORY !

 

Reb Nachman z"l taught that when you learn the stories of the Torah, you must realize that these are not stories about someone else! They are about you and me! Each one of us has to find ourselves in these stories. We must examine where we are in the story, what we have to fix and where we have to get to.

 

It Is Not Good That Man Is Alone

Adam was alone.

"Hashem Elokim said, " lo-tov heyot ha'adam levado- IT IS NOT GOOD that the "Adam" is alone, I shall make for him a helpmate against him." [Bereishit 2:18]

Compare the above translation with the following one:

Ad-noy El-him said, "IT IS NOT GOOD FOR THE MAN to be alone. I will make a helper for him."

For whom is it not good and why is it not good? According to the second translation, it is not good for man. Why not? The usual reasons offered are psychological, social or economic, all quite utilitarian.

However Rashi says:

IT IS NOT GOOD FOR, ETC. So that they [the heretics] not claim that there are two dominions; The Holy One blessed be He, Who is single, [is the ruler in] the supernal realms, and He has no mate : and this one [Adam, is the ruler in the lower realms] and he too has no mate.

Nechama Leibowitz z"l considered Rashi, as the best reader of the Torah text, from among all the commentators. She demonstrates this point throughout her published Torah studies. Here is but one example.

According to Rashi it is not good that man is alone,

Let's read the text carefully: "lo-tov heyot ha'adam levado." Some translate this as follows- 'it is not good for man to be alone.' Others translate, 'it is not good 'that' man is alone,' without specifying for whom exactly it is not good.

Which is the more accurate translation? Nechama Leibowitz points out that if it would have said [in Hebrew], "lo-tov L'ADAM LIHYOT levado," then it would be correct to translate: IT IS NOT GOOD FOR MAN. But since it says "lo-tov heyot ha'adam levado," the correct translation is "it is not good that man is alone."

For whom is it not good? For anyone ! As Rashi explains, for he might think that he is god. This would not be good for anyone, neither for man, animal nor for the universe. And so Hashem made the woman to both help him and to be opposite to man. To help the man know that he is not god, that he is not to lord it over anyone.

 

The Rebbe zt"l says that Hashem could have made man to be more self sufficient; there is no particular reason that man should be any less capable than animals that manage to survive alone. Hashem specifically designed Adam to be dependant. In creating the woman, Hashem provided Adam with both a spiritual helpmate- so that he should not think he is god, and with a physical helpmate, for he cannot manage alone and by facing that reality he must realize that he is not god!

 

HAKARAT HATOV-BEING GRATEFUL: A teaching from Reb Shlomo zt"l

 

What was Adam Harishon’s biggest failing? Reb Shlomo taught that worse than eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, worse than blaming Chavah [Eve] was the fact that Adam did not ‘cover up’ for her. This was his deepest transgression. From Moshe Rabbeinu we learn, that instead of blaming someone else when things are not as they should be, [and as we so often do], we need to learn to be so close to one another, we must know how deeply intertwined we are! We must learn that the deepest thing in the world is to take responsibility for one another. Adam unfortunately missed this point and thus he had to leave the Garden of Eden.

 

THE TRAGEDY OF CAIN AND ABEL Reb Shlomo zt"l In Concert. This video clip is awesome – look at it after Shabbos please. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qvWWBK91lSg

 

A'YEH'KAH - WHERE ARE YOU?

The Alter Rebbe had been imprisoned by the Czarist government, having been falsely accused of treason. While he was in prison the Czar's Minister of Education came to visit him a few times. Being a learned and intellectually curious man himself he made use of his captive audience to learn more about Judaism and the teachings of Chassidut from the Rebbe.

In the Torah we learn that after Adam and Chavah had eaten of the forbidden fruit of the Tree Of Knowledge Of Good And Evil, they became aware of their nakedness and their transgression and they sewed together fig leaves and made themselves loincloths. When they heard the sound of G-d, Almighty G-d moving about in the garden they fearfully tried to hide among the trees of the garden. "G-d, Almighty G-d, called to the man and said to him, "A'YEH'KAH' - WHERE ARE YOU?"

 

Among his many questions the Minister of Education asked the following: Surely G-d must have known Adam's whereabouts, why then did He ask A'YEH'KAH' - where are you?

 

The Alter Rebbe explained that by asking this question, Hashem put the question into the universe - so that every so often man will ask himself "Where am I? Am I heading in the right direction? Am I accomplishing my mission and goals?" Ever since Hashem asked this question - "Ayehkah? Where are you? - it continues to reverberate through time and space. Whenever we hear the question resonating within our selves, it is good and important to know and to realize that it is Hashem Who is asking the question.

 

SINGING TOGETHER ON SHABBOS.

 

Reb Shlomo zt"l, would admonish us not to allow any talking during the singing of 'Shabbos zemirot'. He explained that the 'fixing' of the eating of the fruit of the 'Tree of Knowledge', is accomplished by our eating together at the Shabbos meals. And the 'fixing' of Kayin (Cain) and Hevel (Abel), is accomplished by our singing together, particularly on Shabbos.

 

What was Hevel's responsibility in his brother murdering him? When Hashem accepted Hevel's sacrifice, but did not accept Kayin’s, Hevel should have approached Kayin, and said “ my precious brother, i see how much it hurts you, not being as close to Hashem, as you want to be. please please allow me to share with you whatever little i know about how to serve Hashem”.

 

When we are singing holy song together we are helping each other come a little closer to Hashem by opening heavenly gates for ourselves and for each other. When we sing together, we can hear each other's 'neshama'. Everyone is providing their support and love to help you come close to the place that you are yearning for, to come closer to your 'higher self', to come closer to the home of your soul, to come closer to Hashem. Imagine what it could have been like if only Kayin had listened to Hevel's song. Imagine what it could have been like if Hevel would have bared his heart and soul before his brother Kayin.

 

REB SHLOMO zt"l TAUGHT:

The only way to get rid of anger from your heart is to fill it with joy.

Our holy Rabbis teach us that a sad person is considered as if he was dead. Someone who commits suicide does so only once but a sad person is committing suicide many times, every moment.

 

THE SOUL OF SHABBOS

by Reb Shlomo Carlebach, New York, 5751.

 

Shabbos is back in Paradise. Paradise is a place where everything is good, everything is holy, everything is beautiful. Paradise is a place where suddenly it's clear to me that I can fix all my mistakes. And even more so, everything I thought was a mistake, every street I thought was the wrong street was the only way to get there.

 

Shabbos has two faces. There is keeping the Shabbos holy, the thirty-nine laws of Shabbos, the withdrawing from the world, a non-power kind of like. But then there is the bliss of Shabbos, the inside of Shabbos, which is a gift from Heaven. The bliss of Shabbos is even deeper than Paradise. It's a secret between G-d and me, between me, and the people I love so much.

 

Shabbos is peace because peace is secrets, secrets of the depths, of the deepest depths. Secrets are the deepest G-d revelation. A true Shabbos person is someone who walks the streets of the world and every human being he sees, he shares a secret with. But with those he loves it's the secret of all secrets.

 

Shabbos is the strongest vitamin pill. On Shabbos, new energy is coming down from Heaven. But the energy refuses to be received in dirty vessels, so one second before Shabbos purity and holiness also descend into the world. Happy are those who fill their heart with it.

 

Friday night is the fixing of jealousy. Jealousy comes from thinking that someone can take your place or your portion. And in the deepest depths it's my own emptiness, my own incapability to retain what G-d is giving me. But Friday night, when my heart becomes so full, so overflowing full, like the wine from the Kiddush, jealousy is wiped out from my heart, and hopefully, eventually, from the heart of mankind.

 

Shabbos morning is the fixing of grabbing. Because what G-d gives me I don't have to steal and I don't even have to take; it's given to me. A slave takes, a king receives.

 

The third meal of Shabbos is the fixing of self-esteem, of honour, of giving up hope. The third meal is like the World to Come, when the world will be filled with G-d's glory, with the glory of every human being, when the honour of a child is enough to fill the whole universe with the deepest of G-d's honour.

 

Shabbos is the deepest healing in the world. Our holy rabbis teach us that a doctor can only heal a foot or a hand; he cannot give you a new one. But Shabbos, on the spiritual level, gives you back your hands and your feet. It gives you new brains, new eyes, new ears -- what a gevalt, Shabbos.

 

Friday night is the time of seeing, of discovering the unbelievable beauty and sweetness of the world of the Torah, of people, and above all, those I love the most. Shabbos morning is a time of tasting. It's even deeper than seeing. Most people love each other. But tasting each other's soul, each other's depths -- that is Shabbos morning.

 

The third meal, and, finally, Havdalah, is smelling, inhaling the fragrance, the beauty which is beyond seeing and tasting, the kind of depth which only my soul can fathom.

 

Happy are those who walk the streets of the world with the fragrance of Shabbos.

RENEWAL: A TEACHING AND A STORY

 

Renewal---Starting again. Reb Shlomo zt”l, once told us the following story:

Our Rebbe, Reb Shlomo zt”l was once flying to upstate NY for a concert and sitting next to him on the plane, was a holy non-Jewish brother. Reb Shlomo got into a conversation with him, and he told Reb Shlomo that in his community, about 40 families, had broken away from the church in order to form a community that was wanting to really pray, to really learn.

 

Reb Shlomo said that this man was a very special holy soul. A few minutes before landing Reb Shlomo felt that he wanted to share a holy Torah with this man. Reb Shlomo, who always had a sefer with him simply opened the sefer on his lap, and started teaching from the first Torah he saw on the page before him. (i believe the sefer was the Beis Yakov on Bereishit). And this is what he taught:

 

Everyone knows the famous question; why does the holy Torah start with the word 'Bereishit', which is usually translated as 'in the beginning'? Would we not otherwise have known when G-d created the universe? The Torah does not even have any superfluous letters, and certainly not any superfluous words! So then why does the Torah not start simply, "G-d created heaven and earth"? Should anyone ask you: 'when did Hashem do this'?, you would certainly answer 'it was in the beginning'.

 

There is an entire Kabbalah sefer, the Tikkunei Zohar, in which there are seventy different answers to this question alone. The Beis Yakov gives the following answer. This is a teaching from a rabbi who lived about one hundred and fifty years ago, the holy Beis Yakov.

 

The Beis Yakov says that the word 'Bereishit', 'in the beginning', is not intended to tell us when G-d created the universe. Rather the Torah is teaching us; "Bereishit", 'with the power of renewal', "bara Elokim es hashomayim v'es ha'aretz", 'G-d created heaven and earth'. Meaning that G-d put the power of renewal, into the creation.

 

Why is it that when you are feeling down, and you go for a walk in the forest, fifteen minutes later you find yourself feeling better? It is because of the power of renewal that Hashem put into the creation. Walking in the forest, connects you with the power of renewal, that is what is refreshing you. At this point the plane landed, and Reb Shlomo and this young man parted in friendship and love.

 

About two or three years later, Reb Shlomo was once again in Poughkeepsie, NY. At his concert Reb Shlomo noticed a very special couple with a young child, sitting in the front row. During intermission, the couple came over to greet Reb Shlomo. The woman said to Reb Shlomo, "I don't know if you remember my husband, but a couple of years ago, he was sitting next to you on a plane flying to Poughkeepsie and you taught him a teaching from a Rabbi who lived a 150 years ago?" Reb Shlomo immediately remembered the young man.

"You know, that teaching saved my husband’s life! At the time you met my husband he was a multi-millionaire. About six months later, something went wrong in his business and he lost all his money. It was very hard for him to live with his downfall and he decided to commit suicide. You know my husband is a very organized and methodical man. So he had everything planned out. On such and such a date, at 7:30 in the evening he was going to commit this final act.

 

"At 7:15 my husband sat down at his desk in the study, to write his last letter to us. He finished the letter five minutes before 7:30, signed it and put it in an envelope. My husband is a religious man, so he always kept a Bible on his desk. Since there were a couple of minutes left, he thought he would take one last look in the Bible. He flipped it open, and staring him in his face were the words, "In the beginning, G-d created heaven and earth". And he remembered you taught him, "With the power of renewal, G-d created heaven and earth.

 

"My husband closed the Bible and came up to my room. He said to me, "you know, a few months ago, I met a Rabbi on a plane, who taught me a teaching from a Rabbi who lived about 150 years ago, about the power of renewal, about starting again. Will you please help me start again, my holy wife?" And so here we are, thank G-d, and with all our hearts, we came to thank you."

 

A few years after hearing this story from Reb Shlomo, the story came up again in our conversation. Reb Shlomo zt"l, smilingly said to me, “you know the Beis Yakov probably knew that 150 years later, this teaching would save this man's life.

 

BEREISHIT BARA ELOKIM ET HASHAMAYIM VE'ET HA'ARETZ. IN THE BEGINNING G-D CREATED THE HEAVENS AND THE EARTH.

Baal Shem Tov Al Hatorah: Bereishit #17

 

The Holy Zohar teaches: it is written "Truth will sprout from the earth." (Psalm 85:12) The general and specific foundation of everything is that every single Jewish person must believe and know that the great, almighty and awesome Hashem, is present in the world; that He is One, Singular and Unique. He always was present, before anything ever, He is and He will always be. He fills all space in the heavens above and on earth below. He fills all time, past, present and future, as one. He is beyond all space and time- He is beyond our comprehension. He created the universe in six days, all its systems and every detail, unto the minutest detail therein. And we must know that He did all this for the sake of Yisrael, His holy nation. He did this so as to create us and place us in this world [to fulfill the holy tasks that He commanded us to do], for "before anything else, Yisrael arose in His thought."

 

And further, we have to know that He took us out from Mitzrayim [Egypt], and He brought close to Him at Mt. Sinai and gave us the Torah of Truth, so that we should learn it, teach it, keep it, do it and fulfill it- and that we are to serve Him blessed be His Name, with love and fear [awe].

 

However, every person must know that the essence of serving Hashem yisborach is to serve Him 'b'emes'- in complete truth! As it is taught in the holy Zohar, there is fear and there is fear, there is love and there is love… The general principle of the Zohar's teaching there, is that at all times and at every moment, we must closely examine all our deeds, even our good deeds and mitzvot, to ascertain that no foreign diversionary thoughts enter into our service, 'chas v'shalom'; nor should the mitzvot be done for our personal pleasure or benefit. We must strive to do all that we do for His sake only, in truth and with a complete heart.

 

And all this was made known to us at the very beginning of His Holy Torah- BEREISHIT bara Elokim es hashamayim ve'es ha'aretz- IN THE BEGINNING G-d created the heavens and the earth," as is explained in Rashi. Also, the end letters of the first three words, BEREISHIT bara Elokim, are 'aleph', 'mem' and 'taf' which speel 'emmes'- truth. Hashem loves the people of Yisrael because we were going to accept and receive His Torah, and because we would undertake to fulfill it. True fulfillment of the Torah is accomplished only when it is done 'b'emmet'- in complete truth. Then it is considered 'avodat haKodesh'- holy service.

 

However, everyone must also know that no one can merit acquiring the 'point of truth' unless he first acquires complete humility- to the point that he truly sees himself as nothing- that he sees with the eye of his mind, that he really does not possess anything at all and that he truly has no valid reason to praise himself or be haughty, 'chas v'shalom'. Indeed, haughtiness is the opposite of truth; truth is humility, while haughtiness is falsehood and keeps one distant from truth, and thereby distant from Hashem, whose seal is truth.

 

All this is alluded to in the opening verse of the Torah - BEREISHIT bara Elokim es hashamayim- In the beginning Hashem created the heavens- only the service that is done in complete truth ascends on high to the heavens. And how is truth acquired? BEREISHIT bara Elokim es hashamayim v'es HA-ARETZ- and the EARTH - "Emmes mei-eretz tizmach- Truth will sprout from the EARTH." (Psalm 85:12) By being humble like the earth, we can merit truth, and then all our mitzvot and good deeds ascend to the heavens, to the Most High. [Baal Shem Tov Al Hatorah: Bereishit #17 Translated By Rabbi Eliezer Shore]

 

THE MONTH OF CHESHVAN

We are about to enter into the month of Cheshvan. The days are getting shorter and the nights are getting longer, we are waiting for the rains that we prayed for; may they come in time with abundant blessings b'ezrat Hashem. Winter is about to begin. Spiritually speaking, what is this period of time about? What is the 'avodah' service and the 'fixing' that we are to do?

 

The month of Cheshvan is usually referred to as 'MaR-Cheshvan', the bitter Cheshvan. However, Reb Shlomo zt"l would reverse the 'Mem' and the 'reish' of the word 'mar' – bitter, and turn it into 'RaM-Cheshvan' – the high Cheshvan. Cheshvan is the month of the great Mabul – flood, a month of heavenly judgement and retribution. There are no holidays in Cheshvan. This is one the major reasons that Cheshvan came to be known as 'mar-Cheshvan', bitter Cheshvan. However, Reb Shlomo zt"l taught us to see this month as 'ram-Cheshvan', a month of great spiritual opportunity. The reason there are no holidays in Cheshvan is because this month is reserved for the building of the third Beis Hamikdash, the third Temple that will be built when Moshiach arrives, may it be quick in our days. ... There are no holidays this month because it is reserved for the greatest holiday ever. For the last few weeks our attention was devoted to the holidays and to the many special mitzvot that belong to them. We stood before Hashem and we said many holy words and we thought many good thoughts. Now we have to ingest all this holiness into every fiber of our being, into every cell. We have to 'live' the 'reality' that we prayed for. Our 'Yiddishkeit' can no longer remain 'outside'; we have to bring it 'inside'. This is the work that we need to do now in these coming months, beginning with the month of Cheshvan. This is the work of building the Third and final Beis Hamikdash. This is what 'RaM-Cheshvan' is reserved for.

 

 

עַל-כֵּן, יַעֲזָב-אִישׁ, אֶת-אָבִיו, וְאֶת-אִמּוֹ; וְדָבַק בְּאִשְׁתּוֹ, וְהָיוּ לְבָשָׂר אֶחָד 2:24 Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife, and they shall be one flesh.

Rebbe Simlai

There is a beautiful and perplexing teaching in the Talmud (Berachot 32a) that explains the particular order of our prayers in general and of the silent “Amidah” in particular. The weekday Amidah [which is recited silently and standing] consists of 19 blessings; the Shabbat and Yom Tov Amidah consist of seven blessings. All the Amidah prayers begin with the same three and conclude with the same three blessings. The first three blessings are referred to as ‘birchot hashevah’ – blessings of praise. The last three are referred to as birchot ha’hoda’ah – blessings of gratitude. The middle 13 blessings of the weekday Amidah are known as bakashot – requests. On Shabbat and Yom Tov we don’t make requests, hence the 13 requests are replaced with one blessing, known as kedushat ha’yom – the holiness of the day.

Why do we always begin the Amidah prayer with ‘birchot hashevah’ – blessings of praise?....... This is accordance with Rabbi Simali’s teaching:

 

R. Simlai expounded: A man should always first recount the praise of the Holy One, blessed be He, and then pray. Whence do we know this? From Moses; for it is written, [Devarim 3:23-25] And I besought the Lord at that time, and it goes on, O Lord God, Thou hast begun to show Thy servant Thy greatness and Thy strong hand; for what god is there in heaven and earth who can do according to Thy works and according to Thy mighty acts, and afterwards is written, Let me go over, I pray Thee, and see the good land etc.

However, we need to understand this. What is the point of our praising Hashem? Surely, he does not need our praises, and who are we to praise Him? Surely, we are not trying to butter Him up, so to speak, it would be absurd to think that we could do that – would you pray to a G-d who could be bribed?

 

As it happens, a couple of days ago, I took a sefer off the bookshelf that I hadn’t looked into in a long time – the sefer, “הכנת לב לתפלה” – Preparing the Heart for Daavening, by the Rebbe of Ti’tcheen. ‘Hachanat Lev l’Tefillah is an anthology of teachings from the Chassidic masters, on prayer, as found in their teachings on the weekly parsha. Just as I had put the sefer back on the bookshelf, I thought to myself, “what a chutzpah to just take a sefer off the shelf and put it back without looking inside?” So, I opened it and Baruch Hashem found the following amazing teachings:

 

The Ti’tcheener Rebbe brings this from the Agra d’Kallah, (Rebbe Zvi Elimelech of Dinov, author of the Bnei Yisaschar,] on the verse:

 

2:24 Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife, and they shall be בשר אחד - one flesh.

The words בשר אחד – one flesh, have the same ‘gimattriah’ – numerical value as the word תפלה – prayer. This is the secret of the ‘silent prayer’ [the Amidah], the secret of the yichud – unification in the supernal worlds.

Amazing! Daavening is far more than just asking Hashem to fulfill our needs. The depth of daavening is to be in union and bond with Hashem, as man is in union with his wife! This needs to be understood.

 

Following this teaching, the Ti’tcheener brings a teaching from the Alter Rebbe, Rebbe Schneur Zalman of Liadi, The Bal HaTanya, on the opening words of the Torah

 

בראשית ברא אלוקים את השמים ואת הארץ – In the beginning Elokim created the heavens and earth.

It is taught in Chassidut that this verse teaches us about the ‘ratzo and shov’ in daavening.

רצוא ושוב ‘Ratzo vo'shov’ is a phrase taken from Yechezkel’s vision of the Chariot, where he says,

 

And the living creatures [the angels] ran and returned as the appearance of a flash of lightning. Ezekiel 1:14.

‘Ratzo’ is rushing forward, ‘shov’ is returning. ‘Ratzo’ is inspiration, ‘shov’ is application. שמים -the heavens, is ‘ratzo’ – inspired and rushing towards the supernal One; ארץ – earth, is ‘shov’ – application, manifesting the heavenly union back on earth.

 

Daavening is a journey and it is built like the ladder in Yaakov Avinu’s dream: [Bereishit 28:12] And he dreamed, and behold a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven; and behold the angels of God ascending and descending on it.

*Daavening is the journey of ascending – ‘ratzo’ and descending – ‘shov’*_.

 

The peak of the ascent – ‘ratzo’, is in the recitation of שמע ישרא-ל Shma Yisrael, when we so much want to be with Hashem, even if we would have to give up our lives, for the sanctification of His Name. And therefore, we will strive to love Hashem with all our hearts, with all our souls and with all our wealth, gifts and talents.

 

Following the ‘ratzo’ inspiration, comes the ‘shov’ – application aspect of our service. This takes place during the silent Amidah prayer, when we attempt to be בשר אחד one flesh with Hashem, particularly, in the 13 blessings of request.

 

The rush to the heavens, must be meaningful back on earth; that is why Hashem created both heaven and earth. Giving yourself over to Hashem in the Shma, brings ‘you’ into the ‘ratzo’ aspect of the union with Hashem- being there in complete desire, readiness and devotion.

 

The silent Amidah prayer is the ‘shov’ aspect of the union, i.e. to bring about revelations and manifestations of G-dliness into this world.

 

To be in complete union with Hashem you must be open to Hashem being fully with you, ready to accept the yoke of the kingdom of heaven as given to us in Torah and Mitzvot; open to be one within One, to love doing tzedakkah and kindness, to love every one of your brothers and sisters, to reflect and radiate the Light of Hashem’s presence in your Torah learning, in every footstep you take in the world and live in true peace; this is what makes the union meaningful.

To be in complete union with Hashem you must be open to Hashem being fully with you, ready to accept the yoke of the kingdom of heaven as given to us in Torah and Mitzvot; open to be one within One, to love doing tzedakkah and kindness, to love every one of your brothers and sisters, to reflect and radiate the Light of Hashem’s presence in your Torah learning, in every footstep you take in the world and live in true peace; this is what makes the union meaningful.

What do we need to do achieve this? It is explained that להתפלל – l’hitpallel, to pray, which is conjugated in the reflexive is also understood as “to judge oneself”. A deep part of daavening is to hear Hashem asking man “ayekah” – where are you? To enter into the union with Hashem, we need to first consider, ‘how close am I with Hashem’? Since the last time I davened, have I come closer to Him? (How am I to evaluate that?)

 

Before I can fully enter into the union I need to be conscious of Hashem, with whom you wish to be in union not only in heaven – via your highest and deepest ascent towards Hashem, but also here on earth – via how Hashem wants you to bond with and manifest His G-dliness on earth.

Hence, Rabbi Simlai taught: A man should always first recount the praise of the Holy One, blessed be He, and then pray. The point of reciting Hashem’s praises, as we do in the first three blessings of the Amidah, is to raise our consciousness of Hashem and moving towards having a real relationship with Him.

 

Moshe Rabbeinu instructs us to keep and do the commandments, to love Hashem, to walk in all His ways, ולדבקה בו and to bond with Him. (Devarim 11:22). The 611th mitzvah of the Torah is והלכת בדרכיו “to walk in His ways.” (Devarim 28:9). We learn how this mitzvah is interpreted in the Midrash, the Talmud and Maimonides. (source: Sefaria.com http://www.sefaria.org/sheets/41352 )

 

1. Midrash Sifrei, Eikev 49

As God is called merciful, so should you be merciful; as the Blessed Holy One is called gracious, so should you be gracious.

As God is called righteous, so you too should be righteous.

2. Sotah 14a

As God clothes the naked, as it is written, 'And the Adonai G-d made for Adam and his wife cloaks of leather, and he clothed them (Genesis 3:21);' so you, too clothe the naked. The Blessed Holy One visited the sick, as it is written, 'And God appeared in Ailonei Mamrei [while Abraam was in pain] (Genesis 18:1);' so you, too, visit the sick. The Blessed Holy One comforted mourners, as it is written, 'And it was, after the death of Abraham, and G-d blessed his son Isaac (Genesis 25:11);' so you,too, comfort mourners. The Blessed Holy One buried the dead, as it is written, 'And [God] buried [Moses] in the valley (Deuteronomy 34:6);' so you, too, bury the dead."

3. Mishneh Torah, Human Dispositions 1:6

They taught the following explanation of this commandment: "Just as God is called 'Gracious,' you too must be gracious. Just as God is called 'Compassionate,' you too must be compassionate. Just as God is called 'Holy,' you too must be holy." In this way did the Prophets call God by many appellations: "Slow to anger," "Abundant in kindness," "Just and Fair," "Pure," "Mighty," and "Powerful," and similar to these - in order to demonstrate that these are good and proper ways and that a person is obligated to accustom himself/herself to act according to them, to imitate God, according to his/her ability.

 

With each praise I utter, I need to, not only be conscious of what I am saying – I also must sincerely ask myself if am doing the same in my life, am I walking the talk? For example, when we say, “He supports those who fall and heals the sick” I need to ask myself, am I doing my share to help heal the sick? Am I helping those who fell get back up on their feet? We iterate Hashem’s praises, to be conscious of them and to reflect on where am I in these matters, am I reflecting Hashem’s light in these holy mitzvot? This is the aspect of prayer-Tefilla as judgement- להתפלל – to pray oneself, to engage in self-judgement at the beginning of the Amidah. Are my heaven and earth unified?

 

The unification is completed with the ‘shov’ – coming back down from the heavens and bringing bring the ‘shefa’- the Divine flow of the holy into the mundane world. To make this world of division into the ‘domain of the One’ – unifying all people in peace and in harmony with all life, that is how it will be in the Ultimate Union with the coming of Moshiach! May it be NOW!

Have a wondeful Shabbos b'ahavah ubivracha

Sholom

 

 

 

 

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