Parsha Balak - a Nation that dwells alone
One of the most profound and influential comments ever made about Jewish destiny was made by the pagan prophet Bilaam in this week’s sedra:
As I see them from the mountain tops,
Gaze on them from the heights,
Behold it is a people that dwells alone,
Not reckoned among the nations. (Num. 23:9)
To many – Jews and non-Jews, admirers and critics alike – that has seemed to epitomise the Jewish situation: a people that stands outside history and the normal laws governing the fate of nations.
Reb Shlomo zt"l when introducing his song - "Gam Ki Eileich- though I walk in the valley of the shadow of death, I shall not fear any evil, for You are with me," (Psalm 23), with a lamentation and a cry, that Israel has no friends in the world. He said that this makes him sad but also happy because only good people befriend Israel.
Reb Shlomo continued singing and inspiring us with confidence, teaching that really we are not alone- "For You are with me." Hashem is always our friend.
Hashem too is alone, so to speak. But really He is not alone, because He has us, the Children of The Covenant- we are and always will be with Him. And one day, let it be soon, the whole world will be with Him.
Reb Shlomo's Torah
Balak - Ma Tovu
Each time we walk into a synagogue there is a beautiful passage that we say, it's from this Shabbos. “Mah Tovu Ohalech Ya’akov,” how beautiful are you tents Jacob. “Mishkenosecha Yisrael,” your dwellings Israel. The difference between a tent and a house is very simple. A tent is a tent. You break it up and you put it up again, you break it up, and you put it up again.
So Jacob, first he was called Jacob and when he reached that higher level he was called Yisrael. This is a very hard thing but just take it as it is. In the beginning we are called Jacob and when we reach the level that he was with it, you are called Yisrael. The land is not called Eretz Ya’akov. It's called Eretz Yisrael. You can’t break it up anymore.
So,Jacob is on the level of the tent, one day he’s there, the next day you don’t know. Hopefully it's there and ultimately the wind can blow it over, chas veshalom.
There are two kinds of people in the world. There are days when they are strong like Israel, all the winds of the world can't blow it off. One day you’re not so strong, and you are like a tent.
So this Shabbos we read that Bilaam wanted to curse the Jews. Right now take it in a nutshell.
Balak, the top anti-Jew, took him into the mountains and he said 'look at the Jews, how disgusting they are'. He was saying all kinds of bad things, which is true. Nobody’s perfect. So anyway he says that he told them, look at their houses. But he couldn’t help it. Bilaam wanted to curse the Jews so he says “Ma Tovu Ohalecha Ya’akov,” he couldn’t help it. And you see, this is the first thing we say when we walk into synagogue. How beautiful are your tents Jacob your dwellings Israel. And then we add another passage from the psalms that says “Vaani B’rov Chasdecha Avo Beisecha” that I with your infinite grace, with your infinite love I am coming to your house. Eshtachave El Heichal Kodshecha, Biyiratecha I bow down at the gates of your palace with great awe in this holy place
The Fast of the 17th of Tammuz
This Week it will be the 17th of Tammuz, the second of the four annual fast days commemorating and mourning
The destruction of the Beit Hamikdash. With this fast we begin the 'three weeks' of mourning; also known as בין המצרים - 'between the narrows'. The Talmud tells us that the 2nd Beit Hamikdash was destroyed because of 'sinat Chinam' -- baseless hatred. We also learn that anyone who does not get to see the rebuilding of the Beit Hamikdash in his days, it is as if it was destroyed in his days. What do we need to do to help rebuild the Beit Hamikdash? Many holy Rabbis teach that since the Beit Hamikdash was destroyed because of 'sinat chinam', it will be rebuilt out of 'ahavat chinam' -- baseless love.
May we all be blessed to truly renew and deepen our 'achdut', oneness and unification with each other and with Hashem, and may we merit to see the reestablishment and return of the Beit Hamikdash, [which is already complete, it only needs to be brought down from heaven to earth] quickly in our days, together with the speedy arrival of Mashiach Tzidkeinu. Amen, kein yehi ratzon.
Reb Shlomo Teaching 3 weeks
This is a gleaning from a teaching of the holy Kotzker Rebbe on the verse:
יד וְעַתָּה, הִנְנִי הוֹלֵךְ לְעַמִּי; לְכָה, אִיעָצְךָ, אֲשֶׁר יַעֲשֶׂה הָעָם הַזֶּה לְעַמְּךָ, בְּאַחֲרִית הַיָּמִים.
24:14 And now, behold, I go unto my people; come, and I will announce to thee what this people shall do to thy people in the end of days.'
Here is how the Kotzker Rebbe reads the verse: Now behold I am going back to my people, let me advise you, how to transform this people [the Jews] to be 'your nation' in the end of days.
Consider. What can we learn from our body about assimilation? Just like each organ has its unique identity and place in the body, and thereby contributes to the well-being of the entire body, so too, we the Children of Israel have to maintain our unique identity and be in our ‘place’, in their community, in the Holy Land, to live authentic Jewish lives; authentic to ourselves and authentic to the whole world.
Before receiving the Holy Torah, Hashem initiated us into being His Kingdom of Kohanim, His holy nation. Though Balaam knew this very well, but because he was so self-centered, wicked and evil, he continued to devise strategies to bring about the downfall of the Jewish People.
Prophesying about the end of days, Bilam tells Balak that in the end all the civilizations will crumble and only the Jews will remain. But then, the wicked Bilam goes on to advise Balak about how he could bring about our downfall. He advised Balak that they send out their girls to seduce us, at first sexually and then into idolatry - open your gates to these people and seduce them into assimilation, that is how you will succeed in detaching them from Hashem, 'rachmana litzlan', in the end of days.
The test of Assimilation is one of the greatest tests we face in these very ends of days that we are living in NOW. Not so long ago, in America and in Europe it was very difficult to observe Shabbos and kosher; Sunday was the only day off, you were expected to work on. It was difficult to keep kosher. Many mitzvot fell by the wayside, but rates of assimilation were low. Today, it’s much easier to keep Shabbos and Kosher- these are no longer big challenges. Our biggest challenges are assimilation, loss of identity and self-hate.
Often in our history there have been voices stating that we want to be like all the nations. Jews love the world; and aside from all other reasons, behind this desire to give up on our unique identity, lies an instinctual very Jewish drive to bring about unity. But without knowing or understanding who we are and our role in the world we erroneously think, ‘if I/we are different how will there be unity? Is it not better to blend and assimilate?’
Unfortunately, many of our brothers and sisters, very sadly, have even swallowed the lies of the world against the Jewish People and even believe that being in our own land is an obstacle to peace. This is Cognitive dissonance!
Cognitive Dissonance (Leon Festinger) According to cognitive dissonance theory, there is a tendency for individuals to seek consistency among their cognitions (i.e., beliefs, opinions). When there is an inconsistency between attitudes or behaviors (dissonance), something must change to eliminate the dissonance.
If the anti-semite hates me and I don't know why, if it doesn’t make sense, I experience cognitive dissonance. To eliminate this dissonance some will rationalize the enemy's evil and hatred and think- it must somehow be my fault, and some go so far as to hate themselves as Jews.
Assimilation does not contribute positively – neither to ourselves, nor to the other nations. Like the organs in our body, an “assimilated” organ does not and cannot fulfil its function. The Jewish People are a vital organ of the world. In order to fulfill our purpose in the world, in order to contribute to the well-being of the nations and all of creation we must be true to our identity. Assimilation leads to disconnection from our roots, from our mitzvot and from the study of Torah.
Assimilation comes in many shades and grades. Within my ‘self’ am I true to my ‘self’? On a deeper level lies the question what is in my consciousness? Is it me, my ‘self’ or is Hashem at the core of my thoughts and consciousness? Am I a disciple of Avraham Avinu or the wicked Bilam?
The story is told of a young scholar who had joined the Chassidim of the holy Chozeh of Lublin [Rebbe Jacob Isaac Horowitz (Hebrew: יעקב יצחק הורוביץרבינו ), known as The Seer of Lublin" (החוזה מלובלין), ha-Chozeh MiLublin; c. 1745 - August 15, 1815) was a leading Hasidic Rebbe from Poland.]
His chavrusa- study partner was not pleased about this. Eventually the young man started spending more and more time by the Chozeh, coming back to his home town for shorter and shorter periods. His chavruta kept on challenging him, “why do you need to go to your Rebbe, what can you possibly gain there? Better we should learn more Talmud.” The chassid tried his best to explain what it’s all about, but his friend continued to dismiss it all. Finally, he invited his friend to come to the Rebbe and see for himself, that he could learn much about how to lead a holy life.
“What is so special about your Rebbe anyway? Why should I visit him?”
“My Rebbe, the holy Seer, has exceptional deep and wide vision. Even with his eyes closed he sees into your mind and heart. He knows what each one of us is thinking.”
“And what have you gained from him and his abilities? Has any of it rubbed off onto you?”
“Not so much, maybe a little?”
“Let’s see. Can you tell me what I am thinking about?”
The chassid stood himself in front of his friend and focused his thoughts. “You are thinking about Hashem,” he said.
“No I’m not!” his friend declared.
“That is exactly why you should come with me to my Rebbe!”
May we all know our real place and be true to our real selves, with sincere and humble pride. That is how we will best serve ourselves and the world. All the anti-semitic events in Israel and across the world, all the anti-Semitism at the UN, are only to remind us of who we really are and to push us into being authentic Jews in our homeland and wherever we are. Let’s be our true selves with pride, humility and joy, with love and awe of Hashem.
Parshat Balak: Teachings From Previous Years
▪ Ahavat Yisrael
▪ Exploring the relationship between:כבוד – kavod – honor, and אהבה – ahavah – love
▪ On Being Alone
“The fourth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Shmuel of Lubavitch once said, “What good is Chassidus and piety if the main quality -Ahavat Yisrael- is lacking!?”” (Preface in: The Mitzvah to Love Your Fellow As Yourself; The Chassidic Heritage Series.)
This week we continue to look deeper into Ahavat Yisrael, and how to achieve the mitzvah to love your fellow Jew and mankind. But we want more than to just learn all the awesome and beautiful teachings on this mitzvah. King David prayed וְתוֹרָתְךָ, בְּתוֹךְ מֵעָי – Hashem, it is my deepest desire to absorb Your Torah in my innermost parts. (Psalms 40:9)
We want to live this mitzvah, we want it in our guts. I don’t want any part of me to interfere or prevent me from living this mitzvah. We want to live this mitzvah in mind, body and spirit. I want to know how to achieve the lessons.
My friend Reb Cliff suggests that we try to answer a couple of meaningful questions as we learn:
-do i understand what it means to nullify myself? what it is, to love? Myself? Another?
-do i know how to do it?
-further, to help integrate our learning - people should be responsible to share with … what they got from their prayers and learning and how they are incorporating what they got into their lives. then they can support each other in doing it.
"Love your neighbor as yourself" is the essence mitzvah of the whole Torah- and it is so much more than all that we ‘understand’. Reb Cliff explains:
“Why is this phrase the essence? - Because it means you have met your soul.
From this place teshuvah becomes pleasurable.
Only from here can you experience what G-d wants for you;
all the illusions of this world are stripped away.”
There is a well-known story in Lubavitch, about davening. Before the Maggid of Mezritz became a disciple of the holy Baal Shem Tov, he was already a renowned scholar and Kabbalist. He and a close friend would pray with the kavvanot of the holy Ari zt”l. Eventually they each went on their own paths and the Maggid became a disciple of the Baal Shem Tov. A number of years later the two friends got together again and prayed together, but it took the Maggid much longer to finish. Afterwards his friend asked him why it took him so long- much longer than in the past?
Instead of answering the question, the Maggid inquired about how his friend’s learning and parnassah. The Maggid’s friend said they have a shop which his wife runs, and he spends most of the year daavening and learning; except for once a year when he travels to Leipzig for a few weeks to purchase and bring back the merchandise for the next season.
Hearing this, the Maggid asked, “why do you need to travel to Leipzig? Why don’t you just stay home and meditate on your trip? Visualize the journey, the people you meet, the merchants; visualize yourself making your purchases and then visualize your journey back home. Surely this will save you a lot of precious time.”
Surprised, his friend said, “Reb Ber, I didn’t know that you were so foolishly unaware of the world. What good would my meditation do, when I have to actually go to Leipzig? You can’t bring home merchandise just with meditation!”
“The same is true with daavening!” said the Maggid. “It is not enough to just have kavanah and to meditate on being in the world of assiyah and then meditate on rising higher to the worlds of yetzirah and briah and then into atzilut. You have to be there in actuality, in order to bring home the merchandise – and that takes a lot longer!”
The same is true for our learning. We have to bring the merchandise home! Consider this awesome teaching from Chapter 32, in the Tanya, the chapter on ahavat Yisrael:
The indwelling of the light of Ein Sof in the Community of Israel is impossible if there is disunity between the souls, G d forbid, for “G d does not dwell in an imperfect, fragmented, place.”
So do we say in our prayers: “Bless us, our Father, all as one with the light of Your Countenance,” indicating that “the light of G d’s Countenance” can be revealed only when we are united “all as one,” as explained elsewhere at length.
I ask myself, have I ever been there- all as one? Maybe sometimes, for very brief moments, in my mind. I would like to be there! In Shaar Hayichוd v’Ha’emunah, Chapter 10, the Alter Rebbe presents the following parable to explain the relationship between Hashem and the holy sefirot which are also called ‘lights’ by the Kabbalists. Let’s use this parable to help us understand the unity of our souls with Hashem and with one another.
The lamp of G-d is the soul of man - נֵר ה' נִשְׁמַת אָדָם
“It is, by way of illustration, like the unity of the sunlight that is within the solar globe, with the solar globe [itself], which is called not only “sun” but also a “luminary,” inasmuch as it emits light, as it is written, that G d created “the greater luminary...,” i.e., the very source of light.
The radiation and the beam which spreads forth and shines from it is called “light”, as it is written, “And G d called the light — day.”
When the light is within its source in the orb of the sun, it is united with it in absolute unity, for there, within the sun, there is only one entity, namely, the body of the luminary which emits light; (It would hardly be reasonable to say that within the orb of the sun there exist two things: the luminary and its light. Within the sun globe, only the sun itself exists.) for there the radiation and light is absolutely one being with the body of the luminary which illuminates, and it has no existence by itself at all.
(The appearance of radiation and light outside the sun would seem to indicate that light exists within the sun itself, for if it reaches out and illuminates the whole world it is surely found within its source. In fact, however, when sunlight is considered at the stage at which it is found within the luminary itself, it is so completely identified with it that it cannot be termed light at all; within the sun, the light has no existence with an independent identity.)
The Process: Hitbonnenut- is to meditate well, deeply and frequently. Try to visualize yourself as one of Hashem’s lamps- go deep into yourself, find your essence self, your light within. Strip away all your outer layers and say/sing Elohai, neshamah sh’nattata be, tehorah he - My G-d, the soul which You have placed in me, it is pure… You breathed it into me and You guard it within me Visualize your soul’s ray of light and follow it upwards to its source until you can no longer see it- allow yourself to nullify yourself into the Luminary. Now do the same with a friend. Try to focus on his/her essence soul- another one of Hashem’s holy lamps. See the light above his/her head and rise up with it back to its source, back to the Luminary, where we are all within the same oneness, one with One, one with you, my friend, within the Or Ein Sof- the light of the Infinite One, blessed is He.
AHAVAT YISRAEL RIGHT IN THE MORNING
MAH TOVU O'HALECHA YAAKOV MISHKENOTECHA YISRAEL!
HOW WONDERFUL ARE YOUR TENTS YAAKOV, YOUR DWELLING PLACES ISRAEL
This 'passuk' [verse] is one of the most famous verses of the Torah. We recite it every day, at the beginning of Shacharit – the morning services, as soon as we enter the House of Prayer. Understanding this verse is thus pertinent to each day of the year. The opening verses of our parsha reveal the very interesting and unusual background of Balaam's blessings:
And Balak the son of Tzipor saw all that Israel had done to the Amorite. And Moab became terrified of the people [of Israel] because of their great numbers and so Moab detested the Israelites. Moab said to the elders of Midyan "now this community [of Jews] is going to gnaw away everything around us just as an ox in the field devours the vegetation of the field." And Balak, the son of Tzipor, was king for the Moabites at that time.
So he sent messengers to Balaam, the son of Beor, to Petar, which lies on the river in the land of his people to invite him, to say "behold a nation came out of Egypt, behold they have covered the face of the earth and they are sitting right opposite me. And now please come and curse this nation for me for they are more powerful than me, perhaps I will be able to strike them and drive them out of the land; for I know that whoever you bless is blessed and whoever you curse is cursed." [Bamidbar 22:2-6]
Balak ben Tzipor had been appointed king of Moab. When the Children of Israel were approaching his land, on their way to Israel, he was terrified, for he knew of their victory over the Amorites, a strong nation, led by a strong king. So he called on Balaam, a very powerful but unholy prophet, to come and curse the Jewish people, hoping that this would weaken Israel sufficiently to enable him to drive us away from Moab. How Balaam finally got permission from Hashem to go to Balak, and his amazing journey with his talking ass, is an entire topic in itself. Hashem did not allow Balaam to curse us and instead of uttering curses Hashem made him pronounce blessings. The most famous of all of these is:
"MAH TOVU O'HALECHA YAAKOV MISHKENOTECHA YISRAEL!" –
How wonderful are your tents Yaakov, your dwelling places Israel. [Bamidbar 24:5]
We need to understand the meaning and significance of these words. What exactly, inspired Balaam to praise the 'tents' of Yaakov and the 'dwelling places' of Israel? Why did the Rabbis choose this 'blessing' for the opening prayer of the morning services? This verse adorns the walls of so many shuls and it has inspired many niggunim – why?
Mishnah. [baba batra 60a.] In a courtyard which he shares with others a man should not open a door facing another person's door nor a indow facing another person's window. If it is small he should not enlarge it, and he should not turn one into two. On the side of the street, however, he may make a door facing another person's door and a window facing another person's window, and if it is small he may enlarge it or he may make two out of one.
Gemara. Whence are these rules derived? — R. Yochanan said: From the verse of the Scripture, "And Balaam lifted up his eyes and he saw Israel dwelling according to their tribes." This indicates that he saw that the doors of their tents did not exactly face one another, whereupon he exclaimed: WORTHY ARE THESE THAT THE DIVINE PRESENCE SHOULD REST UPON THEM!
Based on this teaching of Rabbi Yochanan, Rashi explains that seeing "that the entrances [of their tents] did not face one another" is what impressed and inspired Balaam to say “Mah Tovu – It is appropriate [they deserve] that the Shechinah should rest upon them.” [Rashi on Bamidbar 24:5]
That ‘you could not look from one tent into another’ suggests that we were living "b'tzni-ut"– following a code of modesty. 'Tzanuah' means hidden. 'Tzni-ut' – modesty, is a very important 'midah'- behavior attribute that we are supposed to live by. Therefore, our tents were positioned in a manner that would afford each family, privacy. We desired not to look into each other’s tents without permission.
'Tzni-ut'- modesty, is usually considered in the sense of not flaunting one’s physical or spiritual gifts, for any number of reasons, so as not to arouse inappropriate responses. For example, one who is blessed with wealth should not flaunt it in order not to arouse jealousy or an ‘evil eye’; or not to arouse thoughts of being better than those who have less. Halacha – Jewish law expects us to dress modestly, even in the privacy of our homes.
Although our traditional understanding of Rashi's comment is very deep, and it does explain what so greatly impressed Balaam, we still need to understand why we would recite and meditate on this verse upon entering the shul to 'daaven'. Is there a connection between 'tzni'ut' – modesty and prayer?
Rashi cites another Rabbinical teaching found in Sanhedrin: Since Balaam actually wanted to curse us and it was Hashem who caused him to change the curses into blessings, therefore, we can deduce from his blessings the curses that he wished to bring upon us. And so the Rabbis understand:
Balaam sought to curse that we shouldn't have Houses of Worship and Houses of Torah Study – but Hashem made him say: "HOW WONDERFUL ARE YOUR TENTS YAAKOV;" Balaam sought to curse us that the Shechinah should not dwell amongst us – but Hashem made him say: "[HOW WONDERFUL ARE] YOUR DWELLING PLACES ISRAEL."
This explains why the Rabbis chose this verse for the opening of our prayers as we enter into our tents of worship- the 'small sanctuary'- the dwelling place of the Shechinah. However, we still need to understand more; does this explanation take into account the very thing which actually impressed Balaam – namely the fact that the entrances of their tents did not face each other.
Once I received the following possible explanation, בס"ד. In the 'Nusach Ha'ari' siddur, right before "Mah tovu..." one finds the following very interesting instruction from the holy Ari-z"l:
It is proper to say before [beginning] the prayers, "I accept upon myself the 'mitzvat asei' – [positive 'do' mitzvah] of 'V'AHAVTA LE'REI-ACHA KAMOCHA - LOVE YOUR FELLOW AS YOU LOVE YOURSELF"
The Talmud teaches us that when daavening, it is best to daaven with a 'minyan'. All the 'bakashot'– request prayers, are written in the plural form; "heal US, redeem US, bless US" etc. Even when praying privately, an individual should always pray in the name of all of Israel. Why is this so important?
There is a well-known Chassidic aphorism: "If the brother is a brother then the father is a father." In our prayers we turn to "Avinu Malkeinu" – our Father our King. And Hashem says, "If I am your father do you know your brothers, do you know your sisters? Do you know how they are? Do you know if they have what they need?"
If I want Hashem, our Father, to listen to my prayers, to care for me, as a father listens to and cares for his child, I had better unite with all my brothers and sisters – for 'if the brother is not a brother, then the father is not a father' – chas v'shalom!
"Rachmana leeba ba-ee!" The Compassionate One desires the heart, as it says: "To serve Him with all your heart." Prayer is the "service of the heart". Prayer is not only about presenting my requests to Hashem; it is an act of love. In prayer we come close to Hashem; we arouse our love for Hashem. True love for Hashem can only be true if we love all His children. Daavening for yourself AND for everyone else is an act of love – ואהבת לרעך כמוך - "Love your fellow as yourself". By accepting this mitzvah upon yourself before daavening, you are connecting yourself and your prayers with all of Israel.
Two Levels Of Love And Unity
Ahavah-Love is what unites us. There are two levels of love and unity. People usually feel united with others who are like themselves. If you dress as I do, if you eat the same foods as I do, if you shop at the same stores as I do, if you think as I do, if you vote for the same politicians as I do, if you share the same tastes and likes as I do, if I like the way you look, then I like you and we are 'united'.
However such love and unity is self-centered; it is dependent on what 'I' like and what 'you' like and is based on external factors. Should enough of these external factors change, our unity is weakened and the love vanishes.
Ah! But then there is a much deeper and higher level of love and unity, where external factors are not important; our unity is independent of these. At this level we are united because we are all part of the same One. The soul of a Jew is a 'cheylek Elokah mima'al mammash' -a veritable part of G-d above.
Everything is actually unique, you can’t even find two grains of sand that are identical; we appreciate the multifaceted varieties of life forms, colors, sounds shapes and structures found in nature. Yet, everything – every individual, every creation is part of the Oneness of Hashem.
Each person, including his/her different and various thoughts, (including those you don't agree with,) is a part of Hashem's Oneness. In uniting with everyone in this deep way, we are living the reality of the hidden Oneness of Hashem. Only when we stop defining ourselves and others in physical and external terms and instead we learn to see ourselves and others as veritable parts of G-d above, only then will we be capable of truly fulfilling "Love your fellow as yourself."
These two levels of love and unity are alluded to in Rashi's commentary. Upon seeing that the "entrances of their tents were not arranged one opposite the other", Balaam saw and understood that we were living on the higher and deeper level of unity and community- unity that was independent of our self-centered needs and likes. We did not seek to look into each other's tents before deciding if we should or should not be united. We recognized that that which unites us is something much deeper that what can be seen externally. We had actually united in a deep unity. Upon seeing this, Balaam was not only disabled from cursing us, and in fact he was inspired to praise and bless us.
Accordingly we can now understand why this verse was placed at the beginning of the morning prayers, to be recited as soon as we enter the shul. As soon as we enter Hashem's House, the first and most important thing is not to come in as a separate and separating individual, but rather to enter as an individual who is deeply united with his people. In reciting this verse upon entering Hashem's House of Love and Prayer, we are led to meditate on the deep unity and love that inspired Balaam to say "Mah tovu ohalecha Yaakov, mishkenotecha Yisrael",
[ The House of Love and Prayer was the name of Reb Shlomo's shul, first in SF and later in Yerushalayim]
The Ariz"l's instruction: It is right to say before [beginning] the prayers, "I accept upon myself the 'mitzvat asei' - [positive 'do' mitzvah] of 'V'AHAVTA LE'REI-ACHA KAMOCHA - LOVE YOUR FELLOW AS YOU LOVE YOURSELF", clarifies the intent of reciting the Mah Tovu verse. This acceptance upon yourself to love your fellow as yourself is the prerequisite to 'tfilah' prayer. When you live in unity you can daaven. When daavening in unity, your prayers are an act of love and unity, not only with Hashem, but also with all of Israel – and they will be readily accepted.
When we truly unite with each other, the Shechinah dwells amongst us, and then the shul is truly a House of Hashem. The King of all Kings wants His Shechinah to dwell among us. But first we must, together, form the vessel to receive the presence of the Shechinah. 'Knesset Yisrael'- is the community of all the souls of Israel. It is up to us to make sure that the vessel of Knesset Yisrael is as complete in our world as it is in heaven. This unity and love which we accept upon ourselves, has to extend all through the day. Each time we return to Hashem's House we must reaffirm our acceptance and commitment to live in unity and loving harmony before beginning to pray.
AHAVAT YISRAEL – BEFORE GOING TO SLEEP
Just as we begin our day with accepting upon ourselves the mitzvah of Ahavas Yisroel we also end our day with a similar prayer. In the Siddur we find this prayer among the prayers recited before going to sleep [note: this prayer is not recited on Shabbos or Yom Tov]:
Master of the Universe! I hereby FORGIVE anyone who has angered or vexed me, or sinned against me, either physically or financially, against my honor or anything else that is mine, whether accidentally or intentionally, inadvertently or deliberately, by speech or by deed, in this incarnation or in any other – any Israelite; MAY NO MAN BE PUNISHED ON MY ACCOUNT. …. …. May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable before You, Lord, my Strength and my Redeemer.
Among the questions that one may raise here are: a] why should one forgive the one who harmed him intentionally? b] why should one pray for the welfare of the one who harmed him deliberately? c] how does this prayer relate to the mitzvah of loving your fellow as you love yourself?
Reb Nachman of Breslov ztz"l teaches:
"The real meaning of peace is to fit together two opposites. So you shouldn’t be disturbed when you come across someone who is the exact opposite of yourself and thinks the exact opposite of yourself.
Do not assume you will never be able to live amicably with him. And similarly if you see two people who are completely opposite types, you should not decide it is impossible to make peace between them. Quite the contrary! Perfect peace is achieved through the effort to make peace between two opposites, just as G-d makes peace in His high places between Fire and Water, which are two opposites.
The way to achieve peace is through complete self-sacrifice [sacre = holy, fice = making] to sanctify the name of G-d. Then it is possible to pray with genuine devotion."
(Rebbe Nachman’s Advice p.258)
Exploring the relationship between:כבוד – kavod – honor, and אהבה – ahavah – love
IIn the maamar לכה דודי – Lecha Dodi, which was said by the Frierdiger Rebbe at the wedding of his daughter, Chaya Mushka, and the last Lubavithcher Rebbe, Rebbe Menachem Mendel זצ"ל, (1929) we learn a quote from the holy Zohar:
The honor of the King – the Holy One blessed is He – the ‘chattan’ the groom, is His love for the Community of Souls of Israel – ‘knesset Yisrael’!
The honor of the bride – ‘knesset Yisrael’, is her love for the Holy One baruch Hu!
Clearly, the Zohar is telling us that there is a very deep relationship between כבוד - honor and אהבה - love. What is this relationship? What is the highest honor of man?
In the Scriptures we find that the root letters כבד [כ – kaf, ב- bet, ד- daled] provide many usages and meanings, both as nouns, verbs and adjectives:
כבוד- [kavod] (noun) honor, glory, splendor
לכבד- [lechabeyd] (infinitive) ‘to honor’
כבד- [kabeyd] (imperative) ‘honor’
כבד- [kaveyd] (noun) the ‘liver’
כבד- [kaveyd] (adj.) heavy
כבוד ה' [kvod Hashem] (construct state) the honor of G-d
It’s worth thinking about how all these usages are related.
In the Ten Commandments, we find –kabeyd- כבד in the imperative form, “honor your father and mother.”
For a deeper understanding of what honor, especially man’s highest honor is, we learn in Ethics of the Fathers: Chapter Four: Mishna 1:
Ben Zoma would say: Who is wise? One who learns from every man. … Who is strong? One who overpowers his inclinations. …. Who is rich? One who is satisfied with his lot. …. Who is honorable? One who honors his fellows. As is stated (I Samuel 2:30):
"Indeed those who honor Me, I will honor
and those who scorn me shall be demeaned."
In Ben Zoma’s teaching it would seem correct to understand ‘honor’ as being synonymous with respect – who is respected? He who respects others; if you want to be respected, you must respect them.
But when we look at the proof text from Samuel, we see a deeper level in honoring others as it says “those who honor Me” – by honoring others we honor Hashem! How and why is this so? Think about it.
Relating honor with love, as the holy Zohar teaches (above), takes us to a new level of meaning and understanding of honor.
What is man’s highest honor?
It is his ability to elevate another and help them achieve their highest potential. To make another feel important- honestly important, and to honestly appreciate their being and potential.
It is your highest honor when another feels this way in your presence. It is your highest honor that you can love and contribute to the well-being of another and make them feel the flow of holy life energy that is present within them. It is your highest honor that you can connect them with their deepest soul essence within. It is your greatest honor to honor Hashem by honoring them.
Such honoring is a manifestation of true, altruistic love. Such love is man’s highest honor. Such honor and love produces complete and true union.
It is your biggest honor to know that all this is not about you. Your gifts and talents are divine given gifts. In recognizing that it’s not about you – your gifts and talents can reflect Hashem’s light and illuminate the world with His honor, that truly is present in each person.
It is our greatest honor that Hashem allows us the privilege to do all this for one another and for Him. True love is giving. The root of “ahava” is “hav” which means “to give”. Giving honor with love is the way to elevate another and bring honor to Hashem.
On the level of prophecy, the Rabbis say that Bilam is comparable with Moshe. Though he says such beautiful words about Hashem and wonderful prophecies about the Children of Israel, the Rabbis nevertheless depict Bilam as a low and vile character.
To explain this, Rav Steinsaltz leads us to another Mishna in Pirkei Avot 5:19 which explains the real significant difference between Moshe and Bilam:
"Whoever possesses the following three traits is of the disciples of our father Abraham; and whoever possesses the opposite three traits is of the disciples of the wicked Balaam. The disciples of our father Abraham have a good eye, a meek spirit and a humble soul. The disciples of the wicked Balaam have an evil eye, a haughty spirit and a gross soul. What is the difference between the disciples of our father Abraham and the disciples of the wicked Balaam? The disciples of our father Abraham benefit in this world and inherit the World to Come, and as is stated, "To bequeath to those who love Me there is, and their treasures I shall fill" (Proverbs 8:21). The disciples of the wicked Balaam inherit purgatory and descent into the pit of destruction, as is stated, 'And You, G-d, shall cast them into the pit of destruction; bloody and deceitful men, they shall not attain half their days. And I shall trust in You' (ibid., 55:24)."
It’s all about realizing our connection with Hashem and that it’s not about our egos and thinking “what’s in it for me”. We are about to start the ‘the three weeks’ of mourning - from the 17th of Tammuz until the 9th of Av. We mourn the destruction of Yerushalayim and of our Beit Hamikdash, which the Rabbis teach came upon us because of ‘baseless hatred’. Because we looked at one another as competitors and tried to take from one another rather than contribute to one another, we could not defend ourselves against our enemies. Because we didn’t love one another for ‘no reason,’ Hashem took away our Beit Hamikdash. Though it still really exists, we don’t have it; because, as Rebbe Nachman says, Hashem wants us to see and realize how messed up we are so that we should yearn and strive to put our lives and the world back into order.
It has been said that just as the Beit Hamikdash was destroyed because of baseless hatred, it will be rebuilt with baseless love. May it be very quickly in our days WE WANT MOSHIACH NOW! AMEN.
Reb Shlomo on Love
Reb Shlomo speaks about love before creation and after creation. Love before creation is Hashem’s unbounding love. He loves, so He creates the creation to receive His love. This is altruistic love. Hashem’s love for us is not dependent on what we do. Hashem always loves us and continuously creates us anew.
This love is expressed in His Name Ha-Wayah. But there is also ‘din’ – judgment. In the place of [on the level of] love from before creation – judgment is not an absence of love.
But from the perspective of love after creation, love is ‘aroused’ – love manifests only after it has been aroused; it needs to be aroused. Such love is not altruistic.
Can man achieve altruistic love? According to the Talmud, and most philosophers agree, that mankind in general cannot reach this level. However, Hashem does expect us, the children of Israel to strive for and hopefully achieve this difficult task of loving for no reason. At the very least, to believe that this is possible.
Now listen to these words of Reb Shlomo:
“When you want to cure somebody who is sick, you cannot cure a person with the love of after Creation. When somebody is in pain, somebody is crying, and you tell them they are wrong, do you think now is the time to educate them?
Especially little children. The adults say: "Why are you crying? Your father hit you? He was probably right." Sure, he was right. But, if I talk this way to a child, I can't cure her. I make her sicker. You have to connect them with G-d's name that existed before there was anything in the world.
When I want to cure somebody, it has to be on the level of before Creation. There is nothing there - and there is everything.”
In the above passage Reb Shlomo speaks about healing the child who is crying. Though he may be crying because he was just punished and maybe deservedly, this child needs healing. This needs to be understood. What kind of healing does the child need?
Usual thinking says, ‘yes, the child is in pain, but let him cry and let him learn his lesson’. But why is the child crying? Is it only because he does not yet understand the matter of consequences, because he hasn’t learnt the relationship between action and reaction? Is it just because he was told to go to his room? Very possibly so, but consider the deeper reason for his crying. The child is most pained because he feels that he is no longer loved. This is his deepest pain, and right now, he needs to be healed.
Now let’s go deeper. We all are like the crying child – when we encounter hardship or illness, we think that Hashem doesn’t love us. We think that love can only be aroused when stimulated by something personally desired. We think that we are loved only when we earn it. And when a loved one or something we desire, is taken away we [tend to] think that Hashem חס ושלום does not love us. In other words, we lose our confidence and belief in the very possibility of altruistic love- this is the worst that can happen.
Our belief and our self-confidence need to be healed. Our understanding of what it means to be בני ברית – Children of the Covenant, needs to be healed. Our faith in love ‘for no reason’, our faith, that Hashem always loves us, needs to be healed.
Reb Shlomo elucidates the meaning of being in the Covenant with Hashem:
“Abraham, after he entered the Covenant with G-d, didn't need a poor man to bring out the love in him, which is the love after Creation. After he entered the Covenant with G-d, he was so G-d-like, he just had to do good, like G-d. He was not in a state where, if you see a person you love them, you see a poor man and want to give him food. He was looking for a poor man. He was looking to love somebody.”
To be in the Covenant with Hashem is not only to know that Hashem is always present with us, to know that Hashem always loves us- it is to be G-d-like; you just have to do good, you just want to love always.
On Being Alone
"I see them from the heads of rocksI look at them from hills, It is a nation that will dwell alone,
And will not be reckoned with [among] the nations. (Bilam's words. Bamidbar 23:9)
I remember Reb Shlomo zt"l introducing his song - "Gam Ki Eileich- though I walk in the valley of the shadow of death, I shall not fear any evil, for You are with me," (Psalm 23), with a lamentation and a cry, that Israel has no friends in the world. He said that this makes him sad but also happy because only good people befriend Israel.
Reb Shlomo continued singing and inspiring us with confidence, teaching that really we are not alone- "For You are with me." Hashem is always our friend.
Hashem too is alone, so to speak. But really He is not alone, because He has us, the Children of The Covenant- we are and always will be with Him. And one day, let it be soon, the whole world will be with Him.
No one likes to be alone. I distinctly remember a period in my life many years ago when I was very much alone. I had a pencil in my hand and I started to write.
I looked at what I had written and I thought to myself, "I am feeling so alone. Is Hashem also feeling alone? I feel ignored. Is Hashem feeling ignored?" And then another and probably more important question arose in my mind, "Am I causing Hashem to feel alone?" And then, yet another question came to mind, "Could it be that Hashem is allowing me to feel alone, so as to sensitize me to His, so to speak, loneliness and to that of others?"
Pondering these questions, I realized that the answer to my loneliness lay embedded in the very loneliness itself. As soon as I stopped thinking only about my loneliness I wasn't lonely any more. I was still lonely, but it was no longer the familiar paralyzing and depressing loneliness. Instead, it was transformed into a motivational energy.
Years later I learned a teaching from the Baal Shem Tov, which I refer to as the practice of spiritual judo. In judo, we are taught not to try and block the force of the opponent. Instead, learn to use the opponent's energy to your advantage. Likewise, when experiencing emotions or desires that pull you away from Hashem, learn to use and elevate these to bring you closer to Him.
Rashi comments that this ability to dwell alone was learned and inherited from our forefathers, in particular from Avraham Avinu, who was known as Avraham Ha-Ivri. He had the strength and courage to walk alone on the other side of the street, on the other side of the corrupt community. He knew the secret of loneliness- he knew that we must not let Hashem be alone, for Hashem desires to live here in our midst, in this world, the lowest of all worlds.
Avraham Avinu, the man who knew the secret of how to walk alone, is most famous for his "hachnassat orchim"- welcoming guests into his home. Though you may know how to be alone, don't ignore the lonely people. Don't convince them that they are forsaken by not even taking a moment to say "Hello, how are you?" Don't let them think that Hashem is ignoring them. When you see a lonely person Hashem is asking you to help them realize that Hashem is really here with them.
When asked about his practice of hugging everyone, Reb Shlomo zt"l replied by pointing out one of the absurdities of this world: It's okay to shoot a stranger but it's not okay to hug a stranger! We are so self-centered, so totally absorbed with ourselves that we don't even realize that we haven't quite left our childhood ways, thinking "you are here for me- and if you have nothing to offer me – goodbye!" Some people are more sophisticated and not as blunt in the ways they tell others "I don't need you or want you."
A chossid who was having financial difficulties in his business once came to the Alter Rebbe complaining about all the things he needs to resolve his financial problems, but alas- he doesn't have what he needs. The Alter Rebbe put his head down on his arm for a few moments before answering, "You are very focused on what you need. But have you ever thought about why does the world need you?" [ not quoted precisely] Realizing that he totally self-absorbed, the chossid immediately turned to do tshuvah and asked the Rebbe for his advice on how to proceed. The Alter Rebbe told him that his help will come by first helping his friends who are in need.
Before thinking "what can you do for me," consider "what can I do for you?" There is always something you can do. If someone asks you for help in getting a job, maybe you don't have one to offer them, and maybe you haven't got a clue as to how you can help them find one, but you can at least sincerely pray for them.
We are here to make this world into a dwelling place for the Shechinah. We will succeed at this by being best friends and by serving Hashem b'simcha – with joy! Amen.
Reb Berish of Biala zt"l taught that Balak and Billam were two evildoers- Balak in 'action' and Billam in 'speech'. By our sanctifying of Shabbos in 'speech'- ZACHOR ET YOM HASHABBOS L'KADSHO, and in 'action'- SHAMOR ET YOM HASHABBOS L'KADSHO, we nullify the power of the speech and action of the 'other side'. Therefore, taught the Biala Rebbe, that we should be extra careful to guard our tongues on Shabbos, to ensure that we speak only holy speech, and at the very least not to speak 'idle talk'. Every one of us is important to Hashem; our speech and action are significant and can bring about much positive change in the world.
Have a wonderful Shabbos !!